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It's Nelly's World

The Dog I Need

alec vanderboom

Here is what he suggested.

From the left, a car approaches. On its side is printed the legend "Sweet and Cute." Next panel: Another car moves in from the right, and on this one is written, "Big Pain in the Neck." In the third and final scene, the cars have collided with each other, their front ends crumpled to merge as if into one. Now all that is visible is a single, wrecked car: "Sweet Pain."

This is the creation of my son, revealed to me on the cold, wet trek to the car after our miraculous capture of the wild beast that is Nelly. (Now he coos to her as she sleeps, "Oh, Sweet Pain! You are so cute, Sweet Pain." And I remember the words of trainer Kim: "You get the dog you need." Because she will teach you exactly what you need to learn. But what if I keep refusing to learn? Oh, damn! This is what traveling the yogic path is all about. And I keep losing the way.)

We were on our way back after the Number Two Most Disastrous Hind-Brain Rabbit Hunting and Disappearance Episode. (Second only to the four-hour, nighttime winter disappearance into the briers chronicled here almost two years ago, the one where I thought she was gone for good, and was almost grateful for it.) Nelly had been so good lately, too; I thought she was a changed dog.

I should know by now--in fact, I do know, but as with so many things, I seem to be perfecting the ability to know but to persist in ignorance anyway--that certain weather conditions predict trouble. A soaking rain seems to amplify the scent of rabbits. And so it was a couple Saturdays ago. But we went for an off-leash walk anyway.

To High Falls, the Five Locks Walk, heretofore one of our more innocent walks. Nelly's beau Platypus was there, and Platypus's human, and my son. All was well. Except it had been raining. And then we turned around: we were going to a party in a couple of hours, and I needed to get the tomato tart into the oven. Halfway back to the car, and no Nelly. I sent the rest of the party back to wait in the car, lest she take a different route back to the parking lot, then decide since we weren't there to go looking for us in the middle of the road. There she would be done in by an SUV hurrying to the New York Store for a loaf of ciabatta and a four-dollar coffee. (Nelly is a tenacious rabbiter; I am a tenacious catastrophist.) I waited by the footbridge for ten minutes, anxiety growing. For her as well as for the tomato tart. But why wasn't I having other visions, knowing what I knew? Well, for one, I didn't know there were enormous brush piles situated right next to miles of brier patch, just through the woods to the edge of the apple orchard there. Nelly had hit the bigtime, oh boy.

This is what I realized only after thirty minutes of running through the woods, including the incomparable experience of stepping into a hidden swamp up to my ankles, so that now my forest floor, as it were, was as soaked as the one I was scrambling over. My son and friend had driven in the car up to the other end of the trail, to see if maybe Nelly had gotten her directions reversed. Or was eating roadkill in a ditch, a likelier scenario. But no, she was up in the cut brush, running around like a flea on a hot skillet. When she saw me, she looked at me through eyes deranged, then sped off, on the circuitous scent trail of rodent.

I called out, saying "I've found her!" But they could not hear. Down I ran to the parking lot to wait for their return. (I was getting my exercise today for free.) Then we drove up to the orchard, and I gave my directions. We'll draw a tightening cordon around her, all three. To my son I said, "You know how I always tell you to be careful to not pull on Nelly's neck, or her tail? Well, today I don't care where you grab her. If she goes by, throw yourself on her faster than you've ever moved before."

That freaking tart was never going to get baked.

Platypus acted as GPS. Thank goodness, because the brush was so thick it was impossible to see her under it. With him pointing the way (he is a setter!), I started walking on sticks. I only spotted her through the thick lacing of pruned branches, on which I was trying to stand four feet above the ground, when she was directly under my heel. But it was so tight I could barely fit a hand down through them. Much less bring up a twenty-pound dog. But miracles sometimes happen. Even to owners of crazed and besotted dogs. I was lucky to be able to grab her--somewhere--and pull her up. On the way back across the top of the brush pile with her in my arms, my leg suddenly went down, all the way. I could have lost my eye, from a stick. But I was lucky again. And when, oh when, is all my luck going to run out? How many times had Nelly run across a road? How many lives did she, and I, have?

This was brought home, yet again, in the woods out back last weekend. A chance conversation gave me the information that it was the opening of hunting season. ("There are too many deer. Their numbers have to be controlled somehow." Well, there are too many humans, too, and they do immeasurably more damage than deer ever could. Yet I note no one is issuing hunting permits for us.) So when I headed out for a quick walk with Nelly in the wet and dusky forest behind the house, she wore her orange vest. Then, in the gathering dark, I saw a tree move. No, it was a man. With a gun.

He stood only a few feet from me. He said nothing. Then he moved. Nelly was now out of sight, and then I heard her bark. Furiously. She had found something. Now, though, it was a yelp. And then the man lifted his gun. I called out "NO!" Boom. I saw a streak of orange and white go by in the distance. And I started to run, too. Faster than I can remember, with my heart obstructing the passage of breath. I approached the house, gasping now. For many reasons. And there she was, waiting by the door, frantic.

I could see blood on her shoulder.

I reached her, ran my fingers all over her. It was miraculous, yet again. The blood was someone else's. She was fine, just scared. It was something else out there that lay dying.