She always had a spring in her step, a shine in her coat, and an intelligent but playful gleam in her eyes.
Sometimes we would wrestle like pups and after moments of twisting and growling and yipping, we would lay in the grass trying to catch our breath. She would sometimes tell me stories of her day with her humans.
Sometimes I found myself not wanting to hear about them. Her humans. It felt surreal. How could any dog have such a wonderful relationship with their humans? Mine was wonderful but only for a little while. And now look at me. A bag of bones at the end of a five-foot long chain without a shade from the sun or a blanket in the winter.
I found myself changing the subject often. But she would find a way to bring it back up.
She sometimes told me there was still hope for me and that one day I will experience the love she shares with her humans.
She stood by as I licked my bowl clean and when I looked up at her I saw something in her eyes that made me ponder. There was a hint of sadness in them. Then she did something that startled me. She knelt before me and reached her hand out.
Instinctively, I submitted and bowed my head. Then I rolled onto my back, showing her that I wouldn't challenge her. Involuntarily, I let out a whimper and shook as her hand stroked my belly. My tail wagged in nervousness and apprehension. It had been a long time since any of my humans had touched me in a kind way. Frightful, I dared to look at her. Her lips formed into a slow, soft smile.
"Good boy," she said softly. Excitement wanted to explode out of me. The last time I heard those words was when I was a pup. Her hair was the color of sunlight and it swirled around her face as she looked down at me. I couldn't understand the sadness that hid behind her smile and I wondered if she was sad because of me.
Maybe The Boy told her about the bunny I ate. Could that be it?
She continued to stroke my fur and I felt myself relax enough to lay on my side and close my eyes. I didn't want it to end. I felt so much beneath her fingers that it was as if a piece of her soul was slipping through them and into me. So much sadness in her. And love. I felt the love she held for her children and it made me wonder if my own mother felt that way about me.
It made me want my mother.
It also made me wonder what was going on in their home to make both The Woman and The Boy sad, if it wasn't me. And why did no one play outside?
Later, long after The Woman had gone, I told Daisy about this occurrence. She seemed very curious about it and hoped it meant The Woman was going to take me inside their home. I didn't like that idea because I felt myself growing very hopeful and I didn't want to be disappointed if she was wrong.
Before Daisy left, I asked her if she could feel her humans' souls.
She said yes.
The first time I ate a rabbit, I didn't do it in the right mind. The opportunity presented itself to me and I seized the moment almost without thinking. I had just opened my eyes to watch the sun rise in the start of a new day. My nose twitched to a scent that made me want to bay. Something was moving, almost dancing, in my yard. It was a pretty rabbit. The kind that makes my current human smile when she sees it. It was plump. And fluffy. It hopped across the grass as if it had no idea which patch to eat.
While I lay there in the dirt I watched its ears turn at the sounds of birds chirping. I saw its eyes, expressionless as it scanned the yard. It hopped closer to me without paying me any mind. Suddenly my heart hammered behind my chest and my belly cramped in hunger. I felt my mouth moisten in saliva.
Before I knew it I was devouring the rabbit. It happened so fast. I don't even remember when I attacked it or how I did it. All I remember is how good it tasted as it filled my mouth. The pain in my belly seemed to take over. And then something dreadful happened.
The boy intervened. His hands came at me from nowhere. He was hitting me and yelling "Stop" at the top of his lungs. But I didn't stop. I couldn't. I kept eating it. The boy's cries filled my ears and it only made me eat it faster. It wasn't until later when he was crying at my side that I realized the hurt I instilled in him. Whimpering, I leaned forward to lick his face so I could offer comfort. But he shoved my face away with tear-soaked hands. His pain confused me.
I wasn't trying to hurt him. Didn't he see I was only hungry? Didn't my humans know that when they tied me outside I couldn't just sit there in my few feet of freedom and die of starvation? Why did it hurt this boy that I chose to live? As he wept, I realized he had more sadness for the death of this fat rabbit that was free to eat whenever and wherever he chose than he did for me, his own dog, who had no other choice but to fend for himself.
I decided then that the rabbit was worth it. But I still loved the boy.
She also taught me a lot about what it means to be a dog. "We are pack animals," she said. "We aren't meant to be alone apart from the pack. The family is ours to serve. They provide us with shelter, food, and protection. And we are meant to be loyal and to do everything we can to show them that they are loved."
It confused me. If we were meant to be with our family, then why was I outside and kept apart from mine? That question stumped her. And my heart sunk when she gave no response other than to look down. It told me only one thing.
I was no longer a part of my family. They didn't want me. That was why they wouldn't feed me except for days when the boy would remember. They didn't want me. That was why the man beat me. That was why they tied me outside to suffer in the cold.
I had licked the moisture off the grass to keep myself from dying of thirst. My elbows were no longer soft. Instead they were bald and rough by the callus that had formed from the rough ground. My coat was dull in color and thick with grime. My belly ached all the time. And my joints were shaky with pain.
Why didn't they want me? What made them leave me here to die?
Winters are harsh. The chain around my neck was so cold it felt like it burned. I was miserable. My body ached from tensing so much.
One of the children has taken it upon himself to remember me once in a while. He was the oldest of the children. I don't know how old he was but he was about half the size of the man. Once every few days he'd pour some kibble into my bowl. And once he even dumped something really tasty in it. It was warm and mushy.
"It's chili, boy, eat up," he said before running back into his house.
One day, after a meal of scraps, something smelled different. There was a scent in the air that was new. It smelled of a different grass. A female scent. Standing up, I lifted my head and took a deep breath.
"Whatcha all tied up for?"
I turned my head in the direction of the voice.
Ahh. I've never seen anything quite as bright. She was beautiful. She was white and some kind of a spotted gray mix. Bright blue eyes. And she was kind of fluffy.
She pranced over, as gracefully as a deer. "Why do your humans tie you?"
"Who are you?" I asked her.
"Daisy." Slowly, she strolled toward me. "My humans just bought the farm next door." She lowered her head and examined my chain.
Suddenly ashamed, I backed away from her.
She glanced at me, aware that I was uneasy with her investigation. "Sorry. It's just... I've never seen a dog tied up before. Why are you tied up? I've seen horses tied up for shoeing. But never dogs."
I lowered my head. Never dogs. "I don't know why."
There was something in her eyes that reflected sympathy. "But how do you work?"
She giggled and I felt something flutter in my heart. "Well. I'm an Australian Shepherd. I round up the goats and chickens and run by the horses when my humans ride them. Do your humans untie you so you can work?"
I shook my head. "I don't work."
Her eyes narrowed. "You don't work? Well. What do you do?"
I scowled at her. Suddenly she seemed a little more annoying than cute. "I watch the house."
"You're a guard dog?"
I didn't know what a guard dog was but it sounded good. "Yeah. I'm a guard dog."
She seemed satisfied with that. "Well they don't feed you much. Guard dogs should be fed well. It helps with your energy."
Embarrassed that she noticed my bones, I backed off a bit more. "What do you want anyway?"
That seemed to get her attention. "Was just checking out the place. I wanted to get to know the neighbors."
"Nice to meet you," I grumbled. "Now if you don't mind, I need to get back to.."
She waited. "Watching?" A hint of a smirk was on her face.
I scowled again. "Yes." I walked to the tin that leaned against the tree trunk and laid under it.
I looked away from her, hoping she'd get the hint.
"Well what's your name at least?"
A grumble of annoyance escaped me. "Andy," I told her. I closed my eyes and pretended to fall asleep.
Hearing prancing footsteps journey across the grass, I opened my eyes and watched her stroll away.
Never dogs. If dogs were not supposed to be tied up, then why was I tied up? And why couldn't I run with the horse?
I realized today that I wasn't as cold. Maybe the winter will be ending soon.
When my first family tied me outside, they never looked back. I didn't understand what was happening. A dog's place is in his pack. Why was I being separated from them? Did they not know I was meant to be at the foot of the man as he watched his evening TV shows? Didn't they remember how I licked the faces of their children? And didn't the mother remember that when she sat by herself at the dining table in tears, I was there with my head in her lap to offer comfort? My place is with my pack. But there I was chained to a tree with a sheet of tin leaning against it to provide me with shelter from the winter I had no idea was coming to shake my very bones. There were two old plastic bowls nearby that would at first be filled with food and water daily until slowly, over time, the woman would think the man fed me and the man would think the woman fed me. The children would sometimes remember me as I laid in the dirt reliving in my head the days when I played with them. They would come outside with a piece of bread or sometimes a chicken bone.
The hunger made me anxious at first. I would bay a wonderful bloodhound bay, hoping someone would hear me. When the family's back door swung open I would sit like they taught me and wag my tail vigorously. Excited that they heard my cries, I barked and barked- so happy to see them! The man would come out and simply yell "Shut up dog!" before he'd disappear back into his den with the door slamming behind him.
Sometimes I would bay just to hear a voice outside of my own head. I learned to keep the baying to a limit for the lack of water didn't help a dry throat. I would catch myself baying in a dream of playing or running. I'd open my eyes when the pain of hunger gripped me. And then I'd lick the dirt and grass around me to ease the grumbling.
The humans ran inside when it rained. They seemed to need to hide from it. But I loved it! It filled my dusty water bowl and made my coat feel fresh as I shook my body. It felt good to roll in the wet dirt. But during the season of the rain, the cold came. And that's when I noticed something I found confusing.
My joints began to stiffen. I didn't know if the cold caused it or the hunger. I just knew it was horrible. It hurt to lay. It hurt to stand. It hurt to sit. I'd change positions to help with the soreness. But nothing eased it. It was an ongoing fire in my elbows and mostly my hips. The collection of physical pain from hunger to bones took its toll on me.
One very cold morning I could no longer stand it. I sat up and lifted my head to the sky. A hoarse bay thundered through my throat. I would not stop. I would sit there and bay in my loneliness. I cried for my pack to forgive me for whatever it was that I had done to deserve such a punishment. I cried to the skies for pouring this beautiful rain yet cursed me with an invisible ice to freeze my bones. I cried to my parents, missing my mother's warm milk. And I cried to my maker, begging for guidance to help me better serve the purpose every dog exists for.
In the midst of my song, the back door swung open. It was the man. Excited and believing my prayers were answered, I grinned and jumped in happiness! But his face had a scowl planted on it and his fists were bunched tightly into angry balls. With his shoulders hunched he growled as he approached me. Like a good dog, I submitted with my back to the ground. And then the blows came.
I've learned that humans are boiled with emotions. They express them very well. Some shout when they are angry. Some hit. We dogs don't know the emotion of anger. We know the aggressive feeling when we protect or fight for dominance. But anger is something we have never gained understanding of. It is not in our design. I believe it is because of our purpose.