ALL MY FEARFUL thoughts instantly flew away as soon as I heard the unique rattle of the tags on Brown Dawg’s collar coming closer.
Instead, my mind chose to consider the possibility that this responsibility was beyond my ability.
Out here on the West End, there are not many advertised dog-boarding or pet-sitting facilities.
Thus, most pet owners rely on their friends and neighbors to watch over their fuzzy kin while they go out of town.
This holiday season is no exception.
Recently, my neighbor, Jim Felder, asked me to care for his two American Kennel Club-registered Labrador retrievers while he went hunting with friends east of the Cascades.
Felder is a retired Vietnam War veteran who lives out of town with his dogs, Yellow Dawg Too and Brown Dawg.
These canines maintain a healthy weight, see the veterinarian regularly and have a massive bounty of treats on the kitchen counter of Felder’s home.
Brown Dawg is an older gal who is deaf and her eyes are fairly clouded with silver cataracts.
Yellow Dawg, on the other hand, is a bouncy 2-year-old lass.
Brown Dawg depends on Yellow for direction and changes in the environment, taking her cues from Yellow’s body language.
They are well-behaved in the house and don’t chew on shoes or get into the garbage, so it’s a pleasure to leave home to care for them.
At least three times a day, I go visit the dogs and take them on a short walk around Felder’s partially forested property. The last visit is after dark.
One night, I had the particularly brilliant idea to stroll down to the mailbox.
As I walked, the dogs jogged ahead of me in the usual side-winding dog trot.
Brown Dawg took a turn and followed her nose toward a very busy road.
How do you call a deaf dog back from the path of danger?
That’s when the thoughts that I’d rather die than have to tell Felder his pup got injured on my watch flooded my brain.
This feeling reminded me of my days working at a thoroughbred horse farm in Renton.
The horses would come back to the farm, many having won hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As the horses bucked and jigged at the end of the lead rope, I questioned the value of my life compared to these high-stakes winners.
So, rather than drive the dog toward the danger, I turned and walked back toward the house and safety, hoping Brown would follow Yellow and me.
Fortunately, this plan worked.
For the next few days, we walked into the woods behind the house and polar opposite any vehicular danger.
Yellow Dawg runs everywhere under the rain-soaked canopy, following scents her nose picks up on the breeze or ground.
Sometimes she is hidden with only the wiggling and crashing of brush to give her location away.
Other times, she is content to walk the overgrown logging roads with Brown Dawg and me; usually after she scares herself silly by flushing a grouse she wasn’t sure was even there.
My family has a menagerie which includes horses so we aren’t the type to go out of town.
We are the ones who agree to watch others’ critters, even if sometimes I feel under-qualified.
Zorina Barker lives in the Sol Duc Valley with her husband, a logger, and two children she home-schools.
Submit items and ideas for the column to her at zorina [email protected], or phone her at 360-327-3702. West End Neighbor appears in the PDN every other Tuesday.
Her next column will be Nov. 28.