Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Power of the Dog. Cabal (2003-2013)

Sometimes, these things are hard to write. And sometimes writing them saves my life. This is one of those times I'm glad I have my blog here, and it's still so hard to write...

So. 30th of April 2007 I stopped and rescued a dog by the side of the road.

At the time I wrote...

On the way home from the recording, driving through the rain, just as I pulled off the freeway to head home, I saw a large, pale dog on the side of the sliproad. I went in a couple of seconds from a first glance thought of "Oh, he's just wandering around and knows exactly what he's doing," to, on a second glance, "He's absolutely terrified and if he isn't actually lost he's really scared of all the cars and in danger of bolting onto the freeway," .
I pulled over, crossed the road and hurried across to where he was. He backed away, skittish and nervous, then came over to me, shaking. No collar or information, just a choke chain. And big. And very wet and very muddy. With cars going past, I decided the wisest thing to do was to put him into my car while I figured out what to do. The car was the Mini. I opened the door and he clambered in. The dog took up most of the Mini that I wasn't in and a fair amount of the Mini that I was in. Big dog, small car.
I phoned my assistant Lorraine, and asked her to let the local Humane Society (really nice people with a no kill policy) know we'd be coming in soon with a dog, then I drove home, narrowly avoiding death on the way (it's amazing how much you can't see when a huge dog fills the car and your field of vision). I ran around the garden with Dog until he'd tired me out. (I really hope he'd just got lost, and his family are looking for him; it would be hard to imagine someone abandoning a dog that cool.) Then I put him into the back of a car much bigger than the Mini and took him to the Humane Society, where they fawned all over him. ("I think he's a husky-wolf cross," said the Humane lady who took him, and she could be right.)
I think he's probably a survivor too.

And that was what he looked like when he climbed into the Mini.

I seem to have acquired a dog.
I got a call today to say that the owner of the dog I found on Monday had called the Humane Society and collected him. I was happy Dog was back with his family, but found myself rather sadder than I would have expected -- I realised I'd half hoped that maybe no-one would claim him.
The call went on to say that the dog's owner, a local farmer, who kept him chained up in the yard, and couldn't walk well so couldn't walk him, thought the dog was a nuisance, always getting out and heading onto the freeway and sooner or later he'd cause an accident, and, when the Humane Society lady mentioned that the person who found him rather liked him, he told her that if I came over and picked him up I could have him.
So I did.

It took a long time before he was actually white around the neck and chest. The grey of the metal chain had stained his fur grey.

He'd been named Buck, in the farmyard, on the chain, but he didn't respond to it, and hadn't actually been called Buck by anyone, as far as I could tell. I called him Cabal, after King Arthur's white dog who could see the wind, and he seemed to like having a name he could respond to.

I'd never had a dog. I don't think he'd ever had a person. And we bonded. Over the next six years, we both changed and we both grew.

My house in the midwest is on about 17 acres of woodland. I rediscovered all of those acres, and local meadows as well. I had a friend at a time when I needed one badly: I was really lonely at the time.  I'd separated from my children's mother, Mary, four years earlier, and she'd moved out, and the house was  feeling very empty. I didn't really have anyone in my life, anyone who felt like mine.

I got unquestioning love from Cabal. Not in a subservient sort of way. When we went walking, he seemed fairly certain that he was in charge -- after all, he was faster, could smell things, and had a much better idea of how things worked in the woods.

He wasn't afraid of anything, except thunderstorms. And elevators.

I took so many photos of him in the woods that someone made him his own Tumblr feed.

He was less happy in the house. Sometimes his back legs would splay out from under him. He was wary of shiny surfaces, as if he'd had troubles over the years walking on ice in his farmyard.

We were a sort of an Odd Couple, both of us fascinated and delighted by the other one. Both of us protective. He'd stand between me and strangers; he'd move just out of my eyeline, and plant himself there; he was determined to keep me safe from cats, even though I had several cats, and had to divide the house into Cat and Dog territory (and I am not certain he ever realised that that was mostly for his safety, and not theirs).

People said we looked like each other. Some people even tried to prove this.

Amanda says he taught me how to love. She's probably right.

He had trouble with his back legs -- he'd run too fast, too far, too hard, and break the leg and keep going, or rip the tendon. There were operations, one on each, a year apart.

He always slept in my bedroom at night. And then he had increasing trouble getting up and downstairs, and I moved my bedroom downstairs, so he didn't have to worry about stairs. We put a ramp in outside the house so he could get in and out without worrying about stairs.

He was having more trouble walking outside: his front legs went where he wanted them to go, his back legs wandered and lurched. He was three when I got him. Now he was nine, and had a degenerative condition (degenerative canine myelopathy -- like MS for dogs). But he was always cheerful, friendly, and still capable of out-running a human in the woods if something interesting went past.

It made him sad and lonely when I travelled, so I got Lola to keep him company. It worked. Now, when I'd return, he'd be much more cheerful. Lola adored him, and put up with me because Cabal seemed convinced I was pack leader.

He was nine years old. An old, big dog. But still mine, with a determined, unquestioning love and loyalty I'd never known.

When I rented the place in Cambridge I'd planned to bring him out immediately, then I actually saw the house, saw the shiny slippery wooden floors and all the stairs and realised that wouldn't work. The dogs were going to come out here to be with me in about 8 weeks, when it would be warm enough for me to move my workspace out into the conservatory, and in the meantime I was going home whenever I could to spend time with him and Lola (and, over Christmas, my daughters). I was with him there a week ago. I go back in two weeks for a couple of weeks, and was already planning stuff to do with the dogs while I was there.

I got the phone call last night from Hans, who looks after the grounds and the house, from the vet's. Cabal had had a normal, fun day, and then suddenly got really ill. He was vomiting and having trouble breathing. I'd missed the last plane and was going to fly home this morning to be with him while he was ill. Another phone call: he and Mary my housekeeper were with Cabal, and they were both in tears. They put me onto the vet, who was going to try to get  Cabal to the animal hospital. He couldn't breathe. The vet thought there was a blood-clot in his lung. Another call: he wasn't going to make it to the hospital. His heart had stopped. The vet had just brought him back to life, but he was barely able to breathe and she was worried about him going into seizures and dying in pain...

And I wasn't there. If I'd been there, he would have been okay with whatever was happening. If I'd been there it would have been safe for him to go. I talked to him on the phone, intending to say something calming so he could hear my voice, and instead just cried and told him I was sorry that I wasn't there.

I spoke to the vet one last time, and told her to let him go,

Photo of us by Kimberley Butler. She called it Unconditional Love

I cried. Amanda came and held me, and I cried some more. Holly called and I told her what had happened, and she cried too. It was so sudden and unexpected and I wasn't there with him when he went. And I'd lost my friend.

I thought I was all cried out, and then I heard that Lola had taken his collar from the counter top and slept with it all night, and I cried again.

So many kind emails, messages of all kinds. I'm grateful to all of them. To all of you.

I'm so glad I knew him. I'm so glad we found each other. I don't imagine I'll ever have another bond like that in my life. I wish dogs lived longer.

Kipling said it best:

THERE is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day; 
And when we are certain of sorrow in store, 
Why do we always arrange for more? 
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

We can beware all we like. But the poem is called the Power of a Dog, and it is a very real power, and it is, as Kipling knew, a good thing.

He was the best dog in the universe and I'm going to miss him so much.

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