Sunday was one of those days that just primed me for a night full of odd dreams. I saw it coming. I transported two puppies from a drop off at someone’s house to the next leg of the ride, which began in Ohio and ended in Florida. It went so smoothly I couldn’t believe it.
On the way back, I took the long way home, off the Interstate, side roads, and side roads of side roads. I listened to Natalie Goldberg narrating “Writing to the Bones” on Audible.
An officer in the military once told me if the Cubans and the Russians ever invaded from Florida, they would advance north, until they would run into the “I-10 Line” which is where Florida broadens out, and it would be there the southern part of the United States truly begins. A few million heavily armed, and pissed off, rednecks would pour into the area, making it impossible for the military to get in or out, but hey, they are heavily armed, and they are pissed off.
As a military commander, you haven’t lived until one of your senior officers is killed by a sniper, who turned out to be a fourteen year old girl, using her grandaddy’s 30.06 from a hidden tree stand, and on her you find ammo, food, water, and a Barbie Doll, who is also dressed in camo. There’s nothing but death north of I-10 because north of I-10 is South.
It’s pretty country out here, north Florida, that’s part of the south. Giant Live Oaks, lots of water, more history than the locals know what to do with, and it’s just about the part of the country where freezing weather doesn’t happen often enough to scare farmers. Close enough to the Gulf of Mexico to catch a sea breeze, and knock off some of the heat in summer, but that means close enough for hurricanes, too.
There’s Blue Springs in this area, a place once known as a hang out for the party crowd, but they’ve clean it up nice and respectable, and now it’s more a family place to go. The cut short from Valdosta to the springs wound in and out of fields and down nearly forgotten lanes, but all of that is fenced in now, and GPS will get you there quicker, much quicker, but the journey is more than half the fun.
But now I am in Greenville, where, I am told, is the hometown of Ray Charles, who was born in Albany Georgia, according to the people there. I pull over to check on the puppies, and they are on another leg of their adventure, their last one before they arrive home. I too, take a right turn, and I’m heading back to the house. The ride has been good to me, and idea float around in my mind like so many flashes of lightning, or gnats, depending on how hard I work on them.
Many years ago, so many years ago now I have friends who do not remember the year for they are too young, and I cannot recall it because I am too old, there was a young man I knew who killed himself. He was an anxious man, full of restlessness and sadness, yet he was loved. He died alone, by hanging, and no one will ever truly know what his mind was doing right before he died.
Tyger Linn was on Death Row, on the 5thof December, of 2014. A brindle pit stray, she clashed with another dog at the shelter and that was supposed to be enough for policy to have her put down. The call went out, and it does so often, still, and a saw a photo of a scared little girl dog, who had run out of time and run out of chances.
I was once a very young man, and restless, and I was filled with anxiety. In High School, I mostly ate alone, and I drank alone, and I drank a lot. There was a brindle girl pit who would come to visit the school, and I would feed her my lunch, and she loved me. I can’t tell you her real name but I called her “Tiger” and I can’t remember the last time I saw Tiger. I can only tell you so many years ago, that love is still remembered. That’s why I took a chance on the dog I would name, “Tyger Linn”.
On her second day with me, Tyger Linn clashed with my aging Greyhound/Lab, Sam. I pulled Tyger away and she turned and bit me on the hand and she meant it, too. The wound was deep and it was bloody. At that point, Tyger was still a foster dog. If I told the organization who owned her what had happened they would have had her euthanized on entry of the shelter. Tyger hadn’t had her rabies shots yet, so for about two weeks, I waited to start foaming at the mouth. Meanwhile, I had to tell the people I trusted, on the inside of the organization, what had happened. The choices were to adopt Tyger Linn, or to let her die. In January of 2015, Tyger Linn became my dog, legally.
This story never looked as if it might have a happy ending for Tyger Linn. She never made friends with the other dogs. She clashed with Lilith Anne, the Queen, and she fought with Tanya, the Destroyer. She and Lilith Anne got out and stayed gone for four days, and I thought I had lost them both. Lilith looked no worse for wear but Tyger was badly scratched up.
Tyger clashed hard with Arco the Barko, last year. Arco was a lean white pit who was dumped twice in one day. Tyger went after Arco on his last day here and he hurt her badly. Tyger was a lot better at starting fights than winning them.
Nothing she ever did, ever, stopped me from loving Tyger Linn. She was sweet and loved me back, fiercely, and she slept beside my head, to the right of me, every night. Tyger was a one person dog, and she was a one person heart. I thought we were making real progress, because she had settled down after the clash with Arco.
Back a month or so ago, Tyger got stuck under the shed at five in the morning. She went after an armadillo and could hear her gnawing on its shell. I crawled under the shed to get her, and all I could see was her tail and the tips of her back feet. I had to crawl under without a flashlight and use both hands to drag Tyger Linn out. She was stuck, and I was worried about dislocating one of her legs. She made a really strange squealing noise as I pulled and when she let go of the armadillo she also peed on me. I was truly worried she might come out fighting, but she was too exhausted. I started calling her, “The Brindle Badger”
Two weeks ago, yesterday, I came home and Tyger was missing. I thought she might be under the shed so I went to get a good flashlight out of my truck. Her body was beside the driveway. She was just a few feet from where I parked but I didn’t see her when I drove up. Tyger had gotten out and gone after something; a coyote, a big cat, a wild pig, or maybe even the gimpy stray pit I’ve seen around lately. Tyger Linn had lost her last fight.
I can’t say I was surprised. I was, and I am, heartbroken. Of all the dogs, Tyger was the hardest to deal with, the most difficult to train, and the one who loved me with everything she owned. Heart and soul, Tyger was mine, and I belonged to Tyger Linn.
Where Lucas and Bert are buried, the hallowed ground where the great souls rest, is underwater right now. Tyger Linn was buried under an old tree that had fallen over, and she liked to climb it. I made a cairn out of branches to keep the other dogs from digging the grave up. Today I sat on the tree and promised my heart to another dog, yet unknown, maybe not born and perhaps born today. I’ll never stop trying to save the doomed, the broken, the abandoned, the death row dogs, and maybe, one day, I won’t fail as badly as I failed Tyger Linn.
For all the drama it creates, you’d think I have about a thousand acres in back of my house. The reality it that is a rather small plot, just over an acre, but it generates doggy drama like it’s the size of a small New England state. Early this morning, about five or so, the dogs were restless so I just opened the backdoor and released them into the wild. There’s a fence with two hot wires on it and none of the current dogs, no pun intended, seem inclined to test it.
I hear the doggie door swinging and Bud returns. Then Arco follows him, and then Wrex. I put Arco in the crate, and suddenly, I hear Lilith hammering away in the woods. Everyone heads for the door, and I go back to bed.
By now, the Coyotes have to realize that the Cousins are gone. Those two packed over one hundred pounds apiece and that’s a serious amount of dog. Size matters when it comes to dog fights. But Lilith is still a low slung powerful sixty-five pound Pibble with an even bigger heart. She’s backed by Tyger Linn, fifty more pounds of muscle. I doubt either of the boy mean a lot to the Coyotes; neither of them are pushing forty pounds, but there are two of them, which means at any given time you have to tangle with four dogs. Raiding over the hotwire means dodging it twice. The math is wrong for this to be Coyotes. The return isn’t worth the risk, unless they’re trying to make a statement to the naked ape who owns guns. Again, risk versus return tells me it isn’t Coyotes.
Arco isn’t interested at all. I tell him to lie down and he does, inside the crate, and he doesn’t lift his head or voice again. He’s about got this thing figured out, where he gets to sleep inside, and he gets petted, and there is breakfast as soon as I get up. Hunger is a terrible thing, but it lends me a great tool for training purposes, even if I am trying my very best to eliminate it. Arco would learn to deal Blackjack and light cigars if he thought he’s get fed for it. Being silent in the crate seems a very simple thing to him. Whatever is out there, it does not give him breakfast. He is not interested.
Lilith Anne and Tyger Linn, in point of fact, are interested. I hear them both hammering away and whatever it is has to be inside the fence and likely up in a tree. Budlore Amadeus returns and Wrex Wyatt eventually follows, but they can’t seem to stick. One again, they hurry back to the sound of Lilith’s barking.
I drift in and out of sleep, mostly out, listening to Lilith’s voice and wondering what she’s found. Armadillo, likely, in one of the abandoned Cousin Caverns, perhaps, or maybe there were deer just in the other side of the fence. Either way, Lilith is lending her voice to the early morning stillness and everyone who is listening, and there are many listening, know her. Sixty-five pounds in this part of the world means she’s carrying more mass than most things that hunt for a living, and they do realize that Lilith is hunting. This may have a lot to do with this display. I’m not sure.
Ever else can be said about him, Arco Fenney isn’t interested in leaving the house to go bark at the dark. The other dogs can come, go, bark, not bark, but he’s good, thanks, and he’s content to sit this one out, whatever this one turns out to be. He likes to stick close to me when we’re out walking, but not to the point of being a Velcro dog. He’s happy in the kennel in the corner of the room when I’m writing. Arco is all about let’s see how long this regular meals thing is going to last here before we start asserting ourselves.
The first few days Arco stayed in a constant state of motion, trying to sniff everything, trying to figure out where he was and what was happening to him. It was difficult to get a photo of him because he was never still. But now Arco is beginning to get his feet under him. He knows the other dogs are not going to attack him. He knows I am not going to hurt him. He knows there will be food every day, and this is a concept he enjoys. Arco will put his paws on my shoulders while I am sitting on the back steps and allow me to pet him. Allow me? He’s getting pushy about it, actually.
This is the second dog since March I have taken in because they were dumped at the Humane Society building. We’re teaching people bad habits by this. But Budlore Amadeus lies on my bed asleep next to Tyger Linn. Bud was strung up by the collar to the building and left to whatever fate might bring. Now Arco. Another lost soul. Another abandoned dog. Another set of eyes looking at me through the grates of the kennel, wondering if there will be more heartache and more loss.
I make promises. I made promises to Bud, and I make promises to Arco. I make promises to myself, about how much I’ll invest in each dog’s heart. I make promises that I won’t take in another damaged dog, I won’t pick up a hard one, I won’t take in a dog that’s been wounded in some way. But that’s all there is. That’s all of them. That’s each of them. And in some way, that’s us, too. We’re all part of the society that shifts and bends things so dogs are left to die, or left without food, without water, without decent care, because we do that to our own, too.
I can hear the sound of Arco snoring gently from across the room. It’s the deep sleep of a dog who believes, despite all the evidence, that there is a human who will take care of him.
Wrex came back at a time I wasn’t looking to move another dog in with me. I already had two of my own and two of my sister’s dogs, and Wrex would make five, which is a lot of dog. But Wrex was my first foster dog, and I allowed him to be adopted because I wanted to prove a could foster a dog, a great dog, and let him go. And it was a mistake. For four years I wished Wrex was here and even though I put a lot of faith in the young couple who adopted him, I thought this was his home.
Apparently, Wrex agreed. After nearly four years, Wrex was returned to the Humane Society, and, of course, I agreed to foster Wrex.
With a pack of five dogs, it wasn’t a sure thing that Wrex would stay. No how much Wrex and I thought he belonged here, there were four other dogs, and one of them, Tyger Linn, has a history of anti-social behavior. I waited a full month before I legally adopted Wrex. But he slipped right into the five position with ease and grace. The little boy gets along with everyone. Wrex Wyatt, was finally home.
On March the 9th, 2018, someone tied a dog to the Humane Society building in Valdosta. I didn’t hear about it until a week later, but there was no one to foster the dog, and he was scheduled for death. I saw the photo and heard the story of how Sara, one of the hardest working people in the Humane Society had to cut him down from and take him to the shelter. Sara has been with the Humane Society for years. She has seen some shit. I though Sara deserved better than to be the person who had to do this.
I went to see the dog at the shelter. I had to find out of there was any way at all he could be saved. He stood in his cage and barked furiously at me. But I didn’t see aggression. I didn’t see violence. I saw a terrified dog with a broken heart.
The shelter agreed to keep the dog for one more day for me. I posted on FB that if no one stepped forward, I would foster this dog, The Dog Left Hanging, and that would bring me up to having a six pack, and I started calling the dog Bud. When I picked him up they offered to get an animal control officer to help me. I refused. Bud was not violent or aggressive, I told them. He was terrified and his heart was broken.
You can see in the photo Bud is less than thrilled to be with me. But he never offered to bite me, and he never growled. When I got him home I let him have some time alone, then took him out in the yard to meet Wrex. It was like they were old friends. They chased one another in the yard, and Wrex showed Bud where the water was outside, and where the best places to pee were.
I let Lilith and Tyger Linn meet him next and it was a nonevent. Lilith Anne acted indifferent to him, and Tyger wasn’t aggressive towards him. I let all six dogs out into the yard at one time, and everyone was happy with everyone else. I had the six pack!
Of course, fate conspired against me. It was a couple of weeks before I could get Bud fixed and during that time, something very strange occurred; Lilith Anne, the Queen of all the Hickory Head Packs, started trying to play with Bud. There were other things: Bud was house trained, and he knew how to sit. He was not accustomed to being a sofa dog, but he started learning which places belonged to Lilith and Tyger. My sister took her two dogs back and that got me down to three resident dogs and Bud.
The sight of Lilith playing with another dog, something she had not done since Lucas died, did it. Bud would become Budlore Amadeus Firesmith.
In a couple of hours the adoption will be legal, and Bud will, finally, come home.