I Just Hit Your Dog

I was sitting on the couch. Eating cheese and crackers. Wincing at every small movement that sent a jolt of pain through my pounding head. There was a movie playing on my television, and that’s why I didn’t hear the truck pulling up in my driveway.

Not at first anyway. And then the headlights pierced through the living room curtains. Maybe it was DU coming up to do chores, but it was later than usual. Maybe it was CT pulling in to read the meter, but the truck drove past it. Maybe…

…I raced for the door. Threw it open. A young man stepped out into the swirling snow. He didn’t have a coat on. I remember, because that’s what I focused on when he said, “I just hit your dog.”

“What?” I said. Calmly. I said it normally like I was asking him to repeat the last item on a grocery list. I didn’t shriek. I didn’t jump out of my slippers. I didn’t grab my hair or gasp or scream. My heart did though. I never dreamed hearing someone say, “I just hit your dog.” would rip right through me. My heart leaped up into my throat, and then dropped into the bottom of my stomach. I made myself wonder why he wasn’t wearing a coat so I wouldn’t puke all over his shoes.

“I just hit your dog. I’m sorry. Really, I’m so sorry. He ran off. I don’t know how badly he’s hurt. He really yelped…I’m sorry.”

I nodded. “It’s not your fault,” I said. “He’s been crossing the road a lot. I’ve been worried about him. It’s not your fault. It’s ok. It’s not your fault.”

It’s mine. I thought. You knew he wasn’t being careful when he crossed the road. You knew he was crossing it, recrossing it, traveling down the middle. And you didn’t fix it. You didn’t train him to stay off. It’s your fault.

And then he was there, Doc was. He came out of the darkness, whimpering, shivering, wiggling, straight into my arms. The man – Matt – reached down to pet him. He apologized to him. Told him to be careful. He apologized to me again. Then drove away.

I hauled Doc into my arms. Examined him inch by inch, smoothing his fur and cradling his head in my hands. He seemed to be okay. And then my heart exploded. The tears left wet trails down my cheeks. “Please don’t die,” I whispered into the brown eyes staring up into my green ones. “I need you to be here. I need you to be alive.”

It’s a matter of time. Doc is a hard-headed dog, and getting hit won’t have taught him enough to stay away from the road. I can’t watch him every second of every minute he is running free. Others have even commented on how he’s there and then you blink and he’s 100 yards away. He’s a big, athletic dog with an inquisitiveness that has him investigating everything. That inquisitiveness and that zest for exploring – it will kill him.

I don’t know what I will do when that happens. He is a dog. Just a four-legged fluffy furball. But he is one of my closest friends. He has been my constant companion for a year and a half, and I have spent more time with him in those 18 months than I have with any person. He has pulled me out of bed on the days I didn’t think I could get up, and he has made me laugh when I didn’t think I had even a smile inside me.

That’s the thing, you know, about ranchers and their animals. Lots of people connect with dogs. Everyone can grasp that. But it’s the same way with a good cow horse. Or that one cow who always runs to the hay wagon first. The bottle calf you never find a momma for.

Animals teach us about love and about life in a way people can’t. They are companions through thick and thin, and they don’t leave when the trail gets too bumpy. Animals help fix the broken parts inside of us, I think, and that’s part of being a rancher that rarely gets talked about.

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  1. […] digging in his pen during the day, why he gets a little too aggressive with the cattle. b) After Doc got hit last winter, I worked with him constantly. He stopped chasing vehicles, because I made a concerted effort to […]

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