The well-worn path weaves a trail navigating the perimeter of the yard. The grass is beaten down and threadbare from the assault of many steps. It has taken the Sentry countless hours and a multitude of laps to carve out this trail. It is a serious undertaking. Head held high, tail stretched straight back, ears pivoting he starts the next round of the many circuits he will make today. It is not clear if a noise has induced this latest round or if some internal time clock initiated the reconnaissance.
The many stops on the route are indicated by rough circular patterns adjacent to the path. A prized stop is a large knothole in the far northwest portion of the fence. The knothole offers a panoramic view of the wash that traverses the desert sand behind our house. This dry creek bed is a favored byway of local animals, including wild horses. The large boulders haphazardly piled around the wash are dotted by geckos soaking up the dazzling sunlight. The Sentry spends hours in stillness, eyes glued to the knothole, tirelessly observing the world beyond the boundary imposed by the wooden fence.
The serpentine trail he has worn belies the purposefulness in his task. Our sentry knows the importance of keeping his home safe from intruders. It shows in the doggedness of his many rounds whenever he is in the yard. We know he would sound the alarm if the boundary of his territory is breached. For the Sentry is our boy, Taz. He will ensure his pack is safe. He has not had to defend his territory, harsh barks have deterred any would-be intruders. Still he cannot relax to sleep in the shade on a warm summer’s day. He retreats to a quiet spot and listens, head rotating left then right. Watching, always watching until a noise, unheard by the rest of his pack, spurs him into action. If the noise is distant he will start his patrol and check the perimeter once more; if the noise is too close he will verbally warn the stranger away.
As night falls the Sentry reluctantly leaves his post. It is only after we persistently call him that he enters the house glancing back over his shoulder for a final survey of the yard. He knows he can still keep an eye on things from the windows and our Taz makes sure he is positioned for the best views. Tomorrow he will return to duty and his vigilant rounds of the yard.
Over the years the setting has changed from the desert of Reno NV to the lush grass of Maple Ridge BC and Spring Hill TN, to the wooded enclave in Westerose AB. Through all the miles and changes in venue Taz remained our vigilant sentry and each yard was quickly marked by his footsteps.
It has been a year now since cancer claimed the life of our sentry. I am heartbroken as I gaze out the window and notice that the grass has grown over his pathways. The yard shows no trace of the guardian that once patrolled it so vigilantly however the path that he wove through my heart and soul still exists.
If you have read Taz’s story you are aware that he came into our lives when he was six or seven years old. Unfortunately Moe did not readily accept him into the pack and made his life stressful at times. That may the reason why my husband tried to spend some alone time with Taz. He would often take Taz with him if he had to run short errands. The following is one of the adventures of my dynamic duo.
At the time, we lived in a rural part of a small town that is situated about 44 km east of Vancouver, BC. At the junction of our street and one the main streets in town was an Esso gas station which contained a Tim Horton’s store. For those readers who are not Canadian, Tim Horton’s is a doughnut shop that is really part of the fabric of being Canadian. It features good coffee, doughnut’s and sandwiches all at reasonable prices. No second mortgage required to purchase a cup of coffee. Situated directly on the route into town, it became routine for my husband, who runs fueled by coffee, to stop and get a coffee.
On this day Taz was his copilot, proudly riding shotgun in the passenger seat. When he stopped for his coffee, my husband decided to buy some Timbits (a box of round doughnut holes) to bring home as a treat. A decision that he regretted at the next stop, when he had to leave Taz alone in the van with said Timbits. Driving a van there was no trunk to use for safe dog proof storage. He finally opted for thrusting the box of Timbits under the driver’s seat. He rammed the box as far back as he could reach and made sure it was firmly in place. He left hoping out of sight meant out of mind for Taz.
On his return Taz was still sitting in the passenger seat, nonchalantly looking around. His posture clearly stating “nothing going on here”. When Taz finally dared to make eye contact it became clear something had happened. His brown muzzle was now covered in powdered white icing sugar. A glance at the torn and empty box laying on the floor in front of the drivers seat confirmed his guilt.
As a dog parent I often say “Dogs are such good company.” I use that phrase when anyone questions why I have dogs or when I am talking to someone thinking about getting a dog. I fear it has become little more than a platitude. Is it just a reflex utterance similar to asking “How are you?” when greeting someone? What do I really mean when I say dogs are good company?
My husband often travels for his job, leaving the dogs and me to our own wiles. During his absence, I take great comfort in having my dogs by my side. Their very presence brings life to what otherwise would feel like an empty house and an empty life. I shudder to think of spending days and nights in a house that contained just me. The silence would quickly turn from quiet comfort to a heavy burden. Only emptiness would greet me on my return from errands; no wagging tails, and enthusiastic barking. An empty house would not tell me I was missed and that it was happy I have returned.
As I lounged watching TV, no head would rest on my lap, no paw would nudge me as a reminder to keep rubbing. There would be no tic tic of nails on the tile, no jingle of dog tags reminding me I am not alone. As I settle down to sleep, there would be no heavy breaths or sighs of contentment from the various sleeping posts around the room. I know my dogs are an early warning system if someone approaches the house. With no Moe in my life, I would not have the deep warning bark that assures me only the very brave or stupid would encroach on his territory without an invitation. Without my dogs, my life would be missing many bouts of laughter. Moe always the class clown entertains me nightly by tripping over a towel he has tried to steal or by prancing around bearing the trophy of a pink flip flop in his mouth.
I have found that dogs love routines and there is something reassuring in the simple daily chores of looking after your dog. It may be a sad statement, however, I find it uplifting that my dogs depend on me and I strive to not disappoint them. I can not lose myself in self doubt or submit to the minor depression of being alone. I have dogs that need me to take care of them. Despite the sameness in the daily routines, they are happy in their execution. Place a bowl of the same kibble down twice a day every day and the reaction is joy at having food; open the door for them to go outside and take care of business and they come trotting back with tails wagging. When you offer a small morsel of a treat, they come running, heads held high. The tails spinning in circles speak louder than any “thank you”.
In summary “dogs are such good company” and on reflection I know that that is not a platitude.
I have been offline for a couple of weeks as we undertook our temporary relocation from Chandler Arizona to Northern Alberta. This was a trip we had anticipated for months. We had relocated to Arizona, in April 2014, eager to live life in the sun. It now was time to reverse that journey and head to our home in Alberta for the summer. We anticipated leaving the relentless Arizona sun and soaring temperatures for a more temperate climate and time spent in our retreat in the woods. Our enthusiasm was tainted only by the loss of Tasha and Taz and the realization that only two dogs were returning with us.
The first day took us through Las Vegas and into Utah. With every passing hour land flew by the windows. Desert vistas were marked by towering Saguaro Cactus and the twisted shapes of Joshua Trees. We wove around Lake Mead and resisted the lure of the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam. Even the flashing lights and temptations in Las Vegas did not draw us from our destination. The road into southern Utah flowed through deep caverns where we were dwarfed by rising walls of rock. We could have left the planet as well as leaving Nevada. Through it all Moe and Willa slept, relieved by the realization that they had not been left behind. Short bathroom breaks were difficult as the temperature hovered around 115 degrees leaving the desert sand too hot to navigate.
I think Moe was the most relieved of all us when we reached our hotel. For him there was no time for idle walks or bathroom breaks, the priority was scoping out the hotel room. He thinks he’s Goldilocks.
Willa did not waste any time or energy on anything other than keeping a close eye on us.
We continued on our northern course driving into the Rocky Mountains. Salt Lake City was as a gem nestled high in the mountains. As the miles and hours ticked by we left Utah for Idaho. The landscape eased away from desert. With Yellowstone National park off to the east of I-15 we crossed the state of Idaho. Immune to temperature and landscape changes the dogs, once more, slept away the hours. The third day brought us into Montana. At first there wasn’t a striking change in the views. Then we began our ascent into Butte, an ascent that continued for a great part of the day. Snaking our way through the Rocky Mountains and around various peaks, we crossed the Continental Divide. Now the air held a crispness, the sun offered warmth not heat. The mountain peaks and the abundance of endless pastures brought to mind memories of the Broke Back Mountain movie. The gentle summer scenes I saw baring no resemblance to what life in the mountains would be like in the winter. Still the dogs slept; rousing themselves only when we slowed down or stopped to offer them bathroom breaks. One hotel room offered them no more or less than the one before.
As we crossed into Canada the landscapes felt more familiar. Although the endless fields dotted with oil or gas pumps were the same in Montana and Alberta, the act of crossing the border heralded a coming home. The town names appeared more familiar as we headed north of Calgary. Flat lands now bent gently over rolling hills. Finally we headed west, looking for changes in once familiar sights. Little marked the fourteen months we had been gone. A turn up a hill into the woods and our little house stood on the crest. Despite reports from our neighbors, I think both my husband and myself breathed a little easier to see it still standing. Moe and Willa ventured out of our van to explore the yard and the house. Nothing in their demeanor signaled that they had arrived home rather than another stop on the way.
It has been a week now. A week of sweeping away dust and dead bugs and cleaning. The dogs now rested from the long journey appear to be thriving in the cooler temperatures. They are eager to spend time exploring the yard and wrestling with each other.
Moe has found a new den. Willa still keeps a close eye on us but is now confident enough to sleep during the day in a room away from us. I don’t have the heart to tell them we will be making the reverse journey once again in a couple of months.