48: The Biggest Dog on the Mountain

48: The Biggest Dog on the Mountain

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

The Biggest Dog on the Mountain

Fun fact: Dogs are social animals. Wild dogs live in family groups of dogs called packs, but pet dogs consider their humans part of their pack!

We liked hiking together. Today, we were looking for a trail over Wallace Mountain in northern Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest.

“It’s been over an hour,” said Jesse, my nineteen-year-old son. “Do you think the trail still exists?”

We had explored several paths in the new terrain with no luck. We pushed through weeds mid-calf high for us, but neck-high for our rusty-brown dog, Shadow, as she scrambled through the brush.

“Hang in there,” I responded. “It’s easier to find an old trail now in the wintertime with so many leaves down. It hasn’t been rough so far. Okay to keep going?”

Jesse nodded, and we continued. Once in a while, he would call Shadow back when she veered off after a scent. She was the size of a large housecat, her face shaped liked a Beagle but with small, floppy ears inviting a gentle scratch. Always content to curl up on the couch beside one of us, she had the build of a boxcar, no longer slim and bouncing with energy. Outside, though, she came alive and raced circles around us, always returning when commanded, wagging her tail like a feather duster. We carried her red leash with us but seldom had to use it.

Suddenly, we heard what sounded like many dogs barking in the distance, an unusual sound in the wilderness around us. Curious, we climbed the ridge, which provided a view down into the valley and to the opposite hillside, dotted with farmhouses.

“Oh, no. Look, that front door is opening….” Jesse said as he pointed to the nearest house.

His words stopped as we watched the farmhouse transform into a dog factory, spewing first a German Shepherd, then a black Lab. Small dogs, big dogs, brown dogs, and dogs I can’t even describe poured out as if on an invisible high-speed conveyer belt. The hounds hit the ground, sniffing the air and turning to face us. Their barking rose to a frenzy. With menace in their tones and unity in their strides, they descended down their side of the mountain. Jesse shot an alarmed glance at me before turning to call in a firm voice, “Shadow, come here; stay.”

I patted the pockets of my flannel shirt, feeling for the pepper spray, so small it would never work against so many animals. Grim now, I turned, surveying the nearby brush for a potential weapon. I grabbed for a branch, but as I tightened my grip, the rotten limb crumbled, useless. I heard Jesse scrambling through the dry leaves on his own search for protection. With the help of adrenaline, I broke off a decent-sized bough from a nearby tree.

“I’ve got one. Did you get one?” I rushed to Jesse’s side.

“Almost,” he said as he pulled and twisted. “Yes,” he said, staggering backward with a broken branch.

“Dad, where’s the leash?”

The barking intensified. My mouth went dry. Instead of answering, my brain was scrambling to remember how to survive a dog attack. Was it “make yourself big and loud”? No, that was for a black bear. Maybe it was “don’t look them in the eye”? I glanced over at Jesse, his lips pinched tight. Our eyes met fearfully and then there was a mutual nod of resolve.

The pack emerged from the dell, still at a distance, but barreling straight toward us. Shadow stood at Jesse’s side on alert. She began to growl. I juggled my weapons and worried about Shadow, wondering why I hadn’t put her on the leash at the sound of that first bark.

But it was too late. The dogs in the lead were now close enough for us to see that most of them were three times larger than Shadow. Their deep growls rumbling, they ran straight for us. Jesse swallowed hard and looked at me.

Shadow’s back fur rose and she started to walk straight toward them, her low serious growl growing, reverberating from the back of her throat.

“No, Shadow, no,” I commanded. The three of us could face them together, but she would be no match for even one attacker. What had I gotten us into? My stomach clenched tight in fear. I could taste the bile in the back of my throat. How could we possibly save ourselves and our beloved dog from this enormous pack?

Our usually obedient dog took the time to turn her head my way one last time, as if to shrug and say, “Well, yes, you’re my master, but…”

And she continued to advance toward danger, stopping directly in front of the team of angry dogs. They halted in their tracks.

Jesse whispered, “Oh, no, standoff time.”

Shadow bolted toward the largest snarling mongrel. Jesse inhaled loudly, and I clutched my tree branch. Ready to step forward into the fray, we froze, astounded, as the entire mass of dogs turned tail and fled.

Amazed, we kept pace as our twenty-five-pound pet followed the bunch back to the edge of their homestead. Still on guard, I worried the dogs might turn on Shadow when we got to their home turf. Oddly, the dogs had already disappeared.

“Maybe they’re embarrassed,” Jesse said, with a huge sigh of relief. “Come on, Shadow, let’s go.”

The three of us climbed back to the crest, through stubborn laurel thickets and dense brush. I felt almost shaky with relief. We chose to hike a dirt road back to the cabin and soon came across a man trimming trees. He waved as we cut through his private homestead. It seemed so calm and neighborly, so normal and peaceful after our harrowing brush with the horde of mountain dogs.

Back at the cabin, Jesse and I couldn’t stop petting Shadow as we told Mom and Tricia about our miraculous and brave dog.

Jesse said, “You just can’t imagine how Shadow stood them down. She went right for the leader of the pack. And to think we were worried about protecting her!”

Tricia patted the new loveseat. “I guess you’re allowed up here now, Shadow.”

Nobody said a word about her shedding hair where it didn’t belong. In fact, we all crowded around and petted her, while Jesse and I kept repeating the mind-boggling story over and over, adding more details with each round. With each telling, I realized how incredible the encounter had been, and how fortunate we were to be home safe and sound.

“Oh, I need to get something for her.” I went to the kitchen to get her a heaping plate of dog cookies with her favorite topping of peanut butter, plus a fresh bowl of water.

I like to think I saw a gleam in Shadow’s eye as she ate the peanut butter. Her status of loyal family hero went down in history forever. And Shadow’s photo remains front and center on the living room wall to this day.

~Dale Keppley

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