The Saturated Dog Catcher

June 15, 2019

A month ago, I wrote about our rescued dog Oliver, who’s the shyest of the four we have here. He’s as close to me as to anyone else, which isn’t saying much. He lets me stroke his head when I give him his food, but remains immobile as I do so. He just does his thing, whatever it is, without playing much with the other dogs.

Ollie-B copy.jpg
Oliver doing his thing, whatever it is.

A couple of nights ago, as my old hometown of Toronto was on tenterhooks for the NBA finals, I’d planned to catch the game online. But somehow, someone had left our main gate open, and Ollie had wandered out of it.

With the other dogs, I’d be concerned about them causing trouble. With Ollie, I was concerned he’d draw trouble on himself. When you’re a timid dog with minimal social skills around other canines, even if you’re quite big, the world around here isn’t much fun. To go down to the street, he’d have to pass three, maybe five other dogs of varying levels of aggressiveness. Down on the street are some notably mean mutts. So, he went into a place behind the houses, among the rocks under the cliffs, and hid. I went to look for him there, but probably didn’t go up far enough, so I spent most of the evening combing this side of the village for him, and asking neighbours if they’d seen him. None had. By night-time, the Raptors had won, and I was still missing our most vulnerable dog.

I left the front door to the property ajar all night, on the theory that he might come back, and if any of the other dogs got out, they at least knew how to get home. But Ollie lives in a private world of long-entrenched fears; he likely found shelter under a big rock and stayed there. Early the morning after, having slept little and with Toronto no doubt still in a condition of hangover, I went out to look for him again. I’d held off notifying his original rescuer, my friend Lucero, that he was missing, hoping he’d turn up, but I felt I couldn’t postpone letting her know. She was distraught. She was also three hours away, and couldn’t help.

Among other places, I checked the cemetery, where dogs hang out seeking shelter among the tombs. And I found the body of a freshly killed dog, his probable assailants snarling at me from close by.  Seriously – dogs here can be vicious. But at least this poor critter wasn’t Ollie they’d torn into.

Finally, back again behind our house I saw him, to my great relief, and knew … the fun was about to start. The rocks where Ollie was hanging out made it tough for anything on two legs to move fast, and I absolutely didn’t want him to associate recapture with ill-treatment. But he wasn’t going to help much. 

Any of our other dogs come when called. Oliver won’t. Whatever traumas he underwent as a pup are always with him, and he’ll run from me, even if I’m bringing him food. So I began an hours-long process of trying to tempt him home. I went and rattled kibble in his bowl, then decided he was probably more thirsty than hungry, and tried this with his water-bowl. He looked at the familiar green object, came to a few yards away, then turned back into some scrub.

Eventually, I went into town to keep a lunch date with a friend, then started round two. No dice. Then it began to rain. Suddenly, heavily, and … well, wetly. Very wetly indeed. I skidded on mud for the hundred yards back home.

Then, drying out in the living room, I had that “You know what you gotta do, cowboy” moment. Which involved more wetness but not, thankfully, of the kind with which that line of dialogue is associated.

So, I trudged back through the mud to the rocks with Ollie’s water bowl, since even with the rain he had no decent source of water. And a dog gets pretty thirsty after a whole day.

He continued the same process we’d been through a score of times already. I’d call him, he’d come close enough to check things out, then veer off. He was soaking, I was soaking, but he was also tired, and hungry, and cold. At one point he wandered into a kind of shallow trench, paused, and stopped, worn down. I think he tried to jump out and couldn’t. I was finally able to get to him, and slip a leash on his collar.

Relief – I could finally get this daft dog back where he’d be safe! Cue the John Williamson orchestral chords!

Then the real fun began. When he feels trapped, Ollie will go limp. So, he went limp. He sat down, his back legs splayed, and refused to budge. I’m sure in his mind he was trying to resist an anticipated beating or other punishment, perhaps remembering his dreadful puppyhood, but I had to get him down a slippery slope. So: sodden man dragged sodden dog downwards, sliding on the stones of the ciruelos (hog-plums) that grow all around here.

Hog-plum stones are God’s way of saying He enjoys watching people in Mexico fall over. Think of outsized organic ball-bearings, on a hillside also lined with vegetation that grabbed at my ankles, or the dried sticks of which provided roller-bearings to complement the plummy ball-bearings. To this visualisation, add any quantity of mud you like, and the sound of divine laughter coming down amid the rain-supporting thunderclaps.

Add me, determined to do this without swearing at a dog who won’t help me get him to home, food and safety. Now picture me lifting this dead-weight of a wet, muddy dog (22 kilos, or close to 50 lb, plus a little extra from water-content in his saturated fur) and carrying him the last 70 yards back to our front gate. Where I finally had to shove his wet, muddy butt through the doorway.

You could say Ollie was admirably stoic through it all. It was a serious tussle: his single-minded inertia versus my single-minded intention to get him back behind locked gates. I was truly impressed by his ability not to contribute anything useful whatsoever.

Then, once through the door, he flipped. There was his half-sister Victoria, Rem our little pack’s alpha male, and a known environment. He began wagging his tail at full speed.

Hey, what about me, dawg? And look at my clothes! But no appreciation for me was forthcoming. At times of stress, I think he can only anticipate bad things happening. A genius dog he isn’t, but his behaviour made no sense at all in human terms.

Or maybe it did, mimicking some dafter human obsessive tendencies. He’d been scarcely two dog-minutes from the door of home, where there was water, a dry place to sleep, and a regular supply of food. But he confined himself to the illusory safety of an uncomfortable space, deprived of company, sustenance or security. Only when he surrendered from tiredness did he get home – where he obviously preferred to be.

I might just have waited him out for a few days, but I couldn’t make myself do that. I really wasn’t sure he could reason his way out of the situation he was in, simply come back, and bark at the door like any sensible canine miscreant would.

I was aware I looked ridiculous standing in the rain with a bowl of water, calling a dog who wouldn’t come (and who’d still largely avoid me), then carrying him back here. No-one else round here would do that. But I felt wildly relieved he was back on the property, where deep-rooted fears still run his life, but where at least I can prevent the worst of them from happening.

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