I wanted to write about us running together with the wolf dog. How one day, as the sun was setting, we went up a hill and dropped the long line. Where he was no longer physically attached, but instead chose to stay with us. It felt a world of difference, very liberating and moving to witness. After all the work we had put in, he was choosing to stay. He doubled back if one of us fell behind, searching for us, locking back into our eyes. He ran between us with what seemed like delight, body fluid and soft. That did happen.
But then yesterday something else happened, which threatened to wipe all that away. It’s hard to write and hard to put in words. We were out, on the long line, Cauta having recalled away from three other dogs in the field before. We enter the next field and there is one dog in there, off lead. He is far away and I let my guard down, I let Cauta gambol ahead, I let him get too far from me. I make a mistake. Cauta approaches the other dog and the owner starts to put the other dog’s lead on. I call Cauta. He looks, acknowledges, but does not return, back on the trajectory toward the other dog, and now too far away for me to catch his line.
I follow him, not wanting the other owner to think I am merrily letting Cauta approach his dog, now he has put him on lead. But I am too late. Cauta attempts to play with the other dog and the owner yanks on Cauta’s lead and attacks me with the full force of his anger. He throws Cauta’s lead at me, towering over me, and viciously berates me for letting Cauta approach. I am terrified. Cauta immediately sits next to me and does not move. I stand there mute, all my words ripped away. The man swears blue murder and then thunders up to the small group I am with and threatens them too.
We are shaken. I go over and over in my mind, what could I have done differently, what did I do wrong? Should I have done …? Cauta stays on the line for the rest of the walk.
What can we learn? One, not to let Cauta get out of the radius of what he can recall from. Two, to always have him on line unless the other dog approaches him first. Three, to realise we are not in control of everything. I could not control the other’s reaction. Things feel very shaky now, the worry has sky rocketed when we are out.
Cauta did return all but one time on that day. But this is not enough, it is still not safe. Now the struggle of keeping the incident in perspective begins, not to let it overshadow all the work we have done so far.
So, another breath. To put this in context.
Not long ago we visited the beach, for what could have been the first time for Cauta. He fears the tide, gingerly stepping away from the moving water. He is fascinated by two random mountain goats who bleat back to him. It is an archetypal landscape, many worlds away from plodding the streets of the suburbs.
Recently it was the anniversary of my father’s death. He passed many years ago now. His favourite place was the beach, and if he had survived, he wanted to live there one day. I often wonder what he would think of Cauta. As we walk along, one of his favourite songs comes into my head. I start to sing quietly. We are alone on the path, so no one can hear. Except Cauta. He tilts his head as if listening, before returning to his march. I stopped singing years ago, but it seems somehow the song bird stayed around.
On our less dramatic suburban walks, I sometimes see Cauta the former street dog, wisely and seamlessly selecting a suitable shop doorway to cover from the rain, and lying there like he owns the place. I think how rescue dogs may have learnt to only depend on themselves, yet we ask that they trust us enough to depend on us, rather than what has helped them survive this far.
After trauma we all find ways of surviving, but healing and living, rather than existing, requires that we take risks again. We took that risk.
Between sea and sky