What Fresh Hole Is This?

hole By Elizabeth Speth 

Every time Angus, the Jack Russell Terrorist, digs a new hole, I think to myself:  “What fresh hell is visited upon us now?”

Lest you think I am melodramatic, let me explain.  Have the stomach to hear me out, and then ye can judge.

Angus digs several holes — about 36 — a day.  In the nine or so years he’s been with us, that makes… let’s see…. multiply by… carry the four… factor in two leap years… seventy billion holes.

It’s not his fault.  He’s a Jack Russell.  They are known for their frantic energy, their non-stop drive to go, chase, chew, jump, yip, run, bark, dig.  I don’t hold these things against him, although my husband swears he is football-shaped for a reason.

My objection to the holes is based solely on three factors.  Location, location, and location.

I’m talking about the holes in the flower beds.  And the dirt sprayed over the walkways.  I’m talking about the holes in the garden, and the subsequent mass slaughter of innocent herbs and tender radishes.  Holes among the rose bushes.  Holes around the propane tank.  Holes in my neighbor’s yard.  Holes in my neighbor’s garden.

Holes in my indoor plant pots.

There are the holes in the riding arena, where my horses will someday snap a leg if I don’t constantly re-fill them, only to turn around and see that little white tail going mad in a new flurry of flying soil.

We have a lot of pasture, and many are the nights I have heard the horrific clack of my teeth as I suddenly step in one, arms full of hay, because Angus has strategically dug right in my walking path between the gate and the feeders.  Between the gate and the barn.  Between the faucet and the water troughs.  Our pastures are so hole-y they ought to be consecrated.  Filling those holes is about as vain an exercise as picking up horse manure every day, but it still must be done.  One does these things.  One keeps up appearances.

You might be tempted to suggest a dog trainer, or a canine psychotherapist, or a strong sedative.  What we need here, gentle reader, is an exorcist.  I am withholding Angus’ allowance until we can afford one, but in the meantime there are the holes, multitudes of them, each one bringing us several inches closer to hell.

This morning, I caught my wheelbarrow on a new one.  It was hidden under the gate, right where I always pass through, often pushing or pulling a loaded cart, to deliver the horse poop to the compost pile.

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The wheel of the cart plopped right in, my forward momentum was abruptly arrested, and over the cart went, road apples tumbling everywhere, a warm and fragrant bed upon which I landed after several long seconds of undignified struggling against the inevitable fall.

Angus had the grace to look guilty, although he did not offer to help me re-gather my manure.

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“Damn you, Angus,” I said, because no one was around to hear it.

I finished my chores, circumnavigating the hole, and then I went to fetch my shovel to fill it.  Angus ran circles around me as I worked, joyful and energetic, assuming I was having as glorious a time as he so obviously was.  This is why it’s hard to stay mad at Angus.  He is a gleeful dog.

Shovel poised, I approached the gate.  Angus scurried underneath it, as he’s been doing for years, because he’s too impatient to wait for it to open.  I watched him crawl through using the hole like an open tunnel.

I rested the shovel on the ground.  “Come here, Angus,” I said, and he slipped back under, through that perfectly-placed, perfectly-sized hole like a breeze.  He came and sat at my feet.

I took a good, long look at him.  In my mind’s eye, he is still a puppy.  That is because my actual eyes, which will be fifty soon, blur the edges of the everything now.  They still see Angus as a youngster because of his energy and attitude, I guess.  But I did the math right there, and realized he is a middle-aged gent, maybe even a little older than that.

Also, he has gotten stocky, put on a few, as the saying goes.  I hadn’t really seen that before.  I asked him to lie down, then roll over, which he did happily, but was that a little stiffness he struggled against there, getting back up?

“Angus, go back the garden,” I said, and he obliged, flowing like a creamy white rivulet, right back through the hole and under the gate.  I put the shovel away, marveling at the fact that it was entirely possible Angus is taking stock of himself, and coming to some of the same realizations that I must face.

I’m approaching middle age too, and damned if things aren’t starting to widen and stiffen.  Most of my clothing has elastic now.  I need reading glasses.  I use a mounting block to get on a horse, but I don’t intend to stop riding.  Angus needs a hole under the gate, because he does not intend to start waiting for it to open.  We are both trying to maintain a certain standard of living here.

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I have to admire the fact that he assessed a need to adjust his environment to his changing needs, and took care of it.  It made me feel better about myself.  And also a little sad for both of us.

So that one hole can stay.  All future holes will be evaluated in light of this Angus epiphany, but I think it is a safe bet that most will be re-filled.

The horses remained unimpressed when I shared my new insights about our tiny, rough-coated, high-pitched and frenzied friend.  They still find him irritating.  They assure me it will be ever thus.

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What Value, the Soul of a Dog?

By Elizabeth Speth

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This will be a hard post to write. I’ve been putting it off for more than a week.

It’s about a beloved family member who stretched out to sleep in the warm sun on the front steps last Friday morning. It’s about Death coming quickly to claim this gentle creature, mid-nap, in his favorite snoozing spot.

I’m talking about our dear friend Dobra the Doberman, who came to live with us as a foster rescue dog when he was a young adolescent. He stayed for more than a dozen years, helped us raise our children, roamed our three and a half acres, kept its borders safe. He kept the horses in line, fended off intruders of all species. If you posed even a possible threat to any Speth creature — equine, feline, human or otherwise — you had to go through Dobra first. And God help you.

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Dobra the Doberman, with my son Leland, whom he helped raise.

We don’t know if he lifted his head in surprise those last seconds, somehow understanding what was happening to him. We don’t know if he fought his mortality, twitched in protest as he struggled up from sleep. We don’t know if he woke at all, or experienced any discomfort. We weren’t there for any of it. Only his best friend was with him. Angus, the Jack Russell Terrorist was there, lying beside Dobra when we found him, keeping watch while the slow humans finally got around to understanding what we’d lost.

I was very sad that Dobra was suddenly gone. It was so unexpected.

But then I was so grateful.

He had just begun to experience some arthritis, but otherwise seemed youthful. So I didn’t have to agonize about the ‘when do we put him down’ decision, which is so hard.

I rarely have the luxury of having the decision made for me.

Let me just say for the record that Dobra had an epic morning, which was typical for him. He chased some horses, cornered a rodent in the woodpile (that was VERY exciting).

I was scrubbing horse troughs, a game he loved.  He chased the water rivulets as though they were live animals, which he killed by digging holes quickly in their paths to stop them. The holes always drove me crazy — I had to fill them before the horses or I broke a leg in the dark, but I’m glad he got to enjoy the activity on his last day.

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Dobra supervising morning horse chores.

I scooped loose dirt back into those holes with such a heavy heart.

He had a ginormous plate of leftover spaghetti for breakfast — his favorite meal ever.

Exhausted from our morning chores, he stretched out on the front steps. I stepped over him coming out the door, on my way out for a horseback ride. He raised his head, and I could tell he was grateful I hadn’t made him move out of my way. He put his head back down and went to sleep.

My husband Neil and I got a call from our son Lyle that afternoon. We were deep in the American River Canyon, at least two hours over rugged terrain from our truck and horse trailer. Lyle was devastated, and said Dobra had not moved from his napping position, but that he was gone.

Neil and I had miles to ride to get back. We both cried all the way home.

We buried Dobra on the property, as we have all of our beastly friends over the years. We thanked him for all his lovely companionship, and we gave thanks that he had not suffered. We were shell-shocked. Diminished.

But the hardest hit was Dobra’s buddy Angus, the Jack Russell. He has not made a peep since Lyle found him lying beside Dobra, whimpering a little.

When Lyle wrapped Dobra in a sheet to bury him, Angus started pawing at it. He looked to us to fix it. And of course we could not.

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Angus on a typical day. He is usually pretty feisty, which is how he earned the Jack Russell Terrorist classification. He is not the same right now.

I dragged Dobra’s favorite sleeping blanket over next to the fresh grave, and Angus has been sitting or lying on it ever since, except when I make him come inside for the night. He is not eating. He just keeps sniffing the air and looking around, as if he can’t quite figure out where his friend has gone, or from which direction he will come when he returns. That makes me the saddest.

We are not supposed to anthropomorphize animals. They each behave and think according to their unique, species-specific programming. They are not people, and woe to any of us who assume their behaviors are explained by our own human motivations.

But, after this sad week watching poor Angus in the enormous bewilderment of his loss, I know that animals are capable of great grief. It follows that they must be capable of great attachment. That is why we love them so, and are so grateful to walk with them a ways in our much longer lifetimes.

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Many, many animals, horses and dogs and cats, have passed over this property, leaving footprints that eventually fade, fur and fluff blown away in the winds. We have fostered them, dogs and horses and cats in various stages of transition, some traumatized. Some have gone on to wonderful homes. Some, damaged beyond repair by neglect and cruelty and human failings, have been put down as humanely as possible, which is a weak apology at best. Some have just quietly told us, in one way or another, that they would stay.

Some of them have been very special, for whatever inexplicable reason. They have burrowed particularly deeply into our hearts. I still see them in the corner of my eye if I turn suddenly, or gaze into the smudged shadows of the pond, deep in the trees at sunset. I see a lolling tongue and a trotting dog, the flick of a horsetail and the twitch of a mane. I hear a faint nicker in trees that creak as they are nudged by night breezes.

I know it is these creatures I will rush to see, first thing, when I get to heaven. I hope I can find them right away, because I will be so eager to throw my arms around them. I will catch up with my lost relatives and friends afterward. But everyone knows you always say hello to the dog first when you get home.

My horse Santa Fe. My blue Doberman Baron. I hope they are waiting, that we will see each other again.

And I powerfully, profoundly wish to see Angus and Dobra, together once more, as they most certainly belong, the loneliness of their separation a mere memory. That would be an appropriate end to this story, I think.

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