By Alyson Hoge
My neighbors told us — warned us? — that when we moved to the country that we’d never have to buy a dog again.
The number of stray dogs that show up is phenomenal — not counting two litters of puppies, I’d estimate at least a dozen dogs have appeared at our gate over a decade, and more have shown up at my neighbors’ homes.
A few dogs appear to have wandered away from their homes during a big adventure. But most show obvious signs of dumping; they look bewildered and watch approaching cars with hope that their owners have returned to pick them up. Rare is the dog with tags. (Mine have ID.) I find most of the dogs a place to go, but a few we’ve kept.
Last spring, when a thin cream-colored pit bull showed up, I assumed he had been dumped by someone living in one of the cities that have either banned or tightly regulated the breed. He was skittish but hungry enough to come next to the house to eat.
He turned a corner when I shared some of the kitties’ Prozac with him. It only took a couple of pills to ease his anxiety about being around me. Once that dog knew me, he loved me. We kept him because — well, what choice did we have? I didn’t think any shelter would take him because he couldn’t be adopted.
My son named him Ghost, after a character in a video game.
It didn’t take Ghost too long to find his way in our house. At night, this 75-pound dog would sleep on my feet or crawl in my lap as we watched TV. He slept in the chair next to my bed.
Ghost wasn’t neutered when he arrived. When he picked a fight with a neighbor’s unneutered dog who wandered over, I admit it was very troubling. Did I have a fighter on my hand, or was he being territorial? Should I euthanize him? My friend Robert warned me that pit bulls were trouble. I decided to have Ghost neutered and that seemed to calm him down. (By the way, I’m very fortunate that my neighbor didn’t get upset with me about what happened with her dog. She has a philosophical outlook about the life of a country dog.)
Ghost got along okay with our other two dogs. He was very curious about the cats, but no red flags went off that he might be a threat to the animals in our house.
But in November, Ghost attacked one of our cats, who later died. (I blogged about this on Dec. 5.) Again, I debated whether to euthanize him. A friend sought a pit-bull rescue to take him, but alas, they were full.
So Ghost, who wanted nothing more than to lay on my feet or sit in my lap, was banished from the house. His new home was the dog pen. He could still travel the property when he was turned loose, but I was not going to take chances with our other cats’ lives. Ghost accepted his fate and still loved me.
In the last few months, despite my attempts to stop him, he had taken to leaving the property about once or twice a week and wandering around for hours, sometimes not coming back for half a day. Upon his return, he would be worn out and very worried that I would be mad at him.
On the morning of Jan. 31, he and Jesse, one of my other dogs, took off. Jesse returned without Ghost 24 hours later, and both of these things were highly unusual. Over the next few days, we were getting used to the idea that Ghost might not return. We live near thousands of acres of forest. Anything could have happened to him.
Then, on Tuesday, Feb. 5, Ghost showed up. He was in pretty good shape, which I found surprising. Of course, he wasn’t talking about where he’d been. I decided it was time to start taking him to dog training and I adjusted his in-ground fence collar to the maximum setting to discourage him from leaving the property.
But on the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 6, he escaped again. Shortly afterward, I heard dogs growling, barking and whining 1,000 feet away in dense woods behind my neighbor’s house. I grabbed leashes and ran over there, and found Ghost standing over my neighbor’s wounded dog. I hit Ghost with a stick to make him back off. It was like a light switch went off. He stopped growling and came up to me, ready to do as I asked.
I put him in my truck and we went to the vet’s office. The vet gave Ghost a strong sedative and I put a cloth on the floor for him to lay down on. I kneeled down and Ghost crawled over to me, so he could touch me as he fell asleep. I cried as I petted him. The vet returned and gave him the heart-stopping shot.
Later that night, I took my two other dogs outside for a walk. Normally, they follow me all over the front yard. But that night, as I walked toward Ghost’s grave near the pond, they sat on the sidewalk next to the house and refused to budge. When I told them where Ghost was, Jesse looked toward the grave of his running buddy.
The next day, I looked out the window toward the grave and saw the first of the daffodils in bloom.