THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
The Big Red Chow Dude came by the other day to set a spell, catch up on the latest news, and let us know what’s up with him.
In the usual course of things, the Dude is a magnificent animal. Depending on the lighting, he can look as much like a red bear or wolf as he does a dog and is a legend in these parts for his ability to shape-change as well as his command of the forest.
The Dude’s been wild as long as we’ve known him, the expert’s expert in all the in and outs of country dog life. He stays away from vehicles and livestock. Doesn’t chase chickens or ducks.
Emmy our Pit Bull fell head over heels when she first saw him strutting up our back trail three years ago, and he did the same.
Nothing could get that boy off the property. Not yelling. Not squirting. Not rocks. He wanted Emmy as badly as she wanted him, and finally, when our backs were turned, they consummated their love.
The Dude stayed with Emmy and their puppies for a year and a half. For six months no human could get near him, but eventually we all won each other over.
The Dude wouldn’t play with the pups, but he was there to protect them, to stay between his kids and the trees. It wasn’t until he’d taught them everything he knew that he went back into the woods.
Over the past year the Dude has gotten onto a schedule where he visits every couple of weeks. Our wandering son-in-law. This latest time around, the Dude’s coat was matted and he was listless and dull.
Instead of taking his usual place at the highest point in our clearing he slunk up to the front porch and hid behind the swing. He wouldn’t eat or let anybody open his mouth, and his breath smelled worse than a compost heap.
The Dude needed serious medical attention. It was time to take him to the vet. He was fine when I put the leash on him, but instead of hopping into the truck he dug his claws into the ground.
“No!” he growled. “Not the truck! That’s how they I got here. They drove me to the woods. They pushed me out onto the road and squealed away!”
I looked into his dark eyes. “You weren’t always wild?”
“I had a boy once,” the Dude said. “Tall. Kinda gangly. I loved him. I thought he loved me.”
“I won’t abandon you, Dude. Leave these woods in this truck and you’ll come back in it too. Everything’ll be the same.”
The Dude let me pick him up and put him on the seat. We drove to the vet in Flippin, where Dr. Sara Bailey found the problem.
“See?” she said, pointing to the roof of his mouth. “He’s got a stick caught in there.”
And so he did. About an inch thick and four inches long, jammed deep into the Dude’s gums just behind his canine teeth. Blood caked around it.
After a struggle that ended only after Dr. Bailey had sedated him, the stick that eventually would’ve killed the Dude was gone. That’s when the Good Doctor saw another problem.
“He’s not fixed,” she said. “We can take care of that while he’s out.”
I looked at the sleeping Dude. And I knew that this was one of those times when you just can’t do what you should.
“We don’t own this dog,” I said. “He’s not just some pet. Neutering him may be the best idea in the world, but we don’t have the right to do it like this. That would be violating his trust.”
I took the Dude home, and in an hour he was eating like there was no tomorrow and acting like himself again. Prancing to his place at the high spot in the clearing.
He stayed the night, and the next morning I told him what Dr. Bailey wanted to do. The Dude sniffed the air. “Only one way a man can answer that,” he said.
He nuzzled my hand, and bounded to his feet. “Tell everybody I’ll see ‘em soon,” the Dude said. “Thanks for being such a good buddy and watching my—“ he paused and I swear I heard an “Ahem”—“back.”
And, laughing, the King of the Forest strutted back into his domain.