The following event occurred in 2001. I found it impacting enough to write it down shortly after it occurred and now I want to share it with you.
Something happened the other day that has struck me profoundly in ways I could not have imagined. It started off rather simply. I was down at the local shelter during my lunch hour, walking the Rottweilers that were there. This is something I do regularly because it’s a brief vacation from the chaos of the engineering/consulting business. It was no surprise for me to see a large pickup truck pull into the parking lot with noticeable veterinary storage bins in the back. Many of the local vets visit farms so they have portable vet facilities in the form of a heavy duty truck. I knew what the vet was at the shelter for. Being the only incinerator in the area, the vets bring animals they have put to sleep or that have died of natural causes so they can be cremated. In this particular instance, it was a dog. I thought nothing of it until one of the workers at the shelter mentioned that she knew both the dog and the owner. As she was about the owner with another worker, my attention was grabbed when she stated that it was a Rottweiler that had been brought it. I paused with Adonis, the Rottweiler cross I was bringing back from a walk. I knelt down and listened to the story as I gave Adonis a belly rub.
The owner was a friend of hers, an older man who lived alone, large and gruff in appearance. He’d had the dog since she was a pup. Along with her, he had one of her offspring and everything he did was with his dogs. She described how he would drive all over with his dogs in the back of his truck, the topper gate open so they could look out, but with a safety bar ensuring they couldn’t jump out. I realized that I had seen this man before. I asked if he drove a silver full-size Chevy. The worker acknowledged that he did, and I asked if he lived off of Lincoln Street. Again, she confirmed my suspicions. I knew the man, or at least I knew his dogs. During my daily walks with my dogs, I would often see him drive by, his two Rottweilers looking out the back of his truck. Upon seeing each other, his dogs and mine would exchange barks. These barks were not necessarily challenges but more like boasts, each stating that the other was trespassing. These boasts reaffirmed that they were Rottweilers and that this was their turf. After ten seconds of vitriolic canine dialog, the dogs would go silent, the truck would round a corner, and we would continue on our way. This happened regularly for the five years that I had been walking my dogs along that route.
Though I did not know the man’s name nor his dogs’ names, I felt a sense of loss at seeing the Rottweiler’s body being brought into the crematorium. The worker who knew the owner spoke of how devastating it must be for the man, stating how the dogs had slept with him on his bed and went everywhere with him. She also wondered how the younger dog was getting along now that the older one had died. The other worker shook her head in empathy as she filled out the paper work for the cremation. I took Adonis back to his kennel and thought little more about the story other than the fact that another Rottweiler had died. At least it was a dog that had known what love was, not a stray or one beaten to death at the hand of an abusive owner, things I’d seen many times over my years of doing rescue work.
It was several days later, while walking my dogs, that I heard a truck coming from behind me. I turned slightly to see that it was in fact the silver Chevy. I braced myself for what I expected to happen, the usual lunging and confident exchange of insults between Rottweilers. As the truck drove past, Mickey, my large dominant female, tensed up and looked at the truck, waiting to see if a dog was in the back. There was; a single female Rottweiler was looking at us. The loneliness of her not having a companion was evident. Instead of the volley of barks I was expecting, she let out a lone, solitary bark followed by a slight whine. I looked at Mickey, bracing for her to lunge and bark wildly at the dog. Instead, she and Griz looked on, stopped in the moment as the sound of the other dog’s bark faded into the morning air. They both watched as the truck turned the corner, their eyes in full contact with the eyes of the Rottweiler in the back of the truck.
As the truck and its passenger disappeared, my dogs started walking again. I was dumbfounded by what I had just observed. Was it possible that they knew of the other dog’s loss? Could so much be conveyed by a single bark? Did God give these wonderful creatures the ability to comprehend the grief associated with death? Could they understand, by such a simple conveyance of sound waves, the agony and loneliness caused by the passing of a loved one? Apparently so. I can’t explain it and I dare not try. Rather, I sit back once more in amazement of these animals, knowing full well they are not human and that they can’t rationalize as we do. Yet, just maybe, by some miracle, in that one instant my dogs knew exactly what had happened. And perhaps, out of respect, they agreed to a cease fire, a truce to honor the fallen. Then again, what do I know? I am just a human.
For a touching fictional story about the human/canine relationship, be sure to check out my novel, Stranger’s Dance. Also, I will be holding an author event and book signing at Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, Montana on February 10, 2016 at 7pm.