79: Uncommon Courage

79: Uncommon Courage

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Dog Did That!

Uncommon Courage

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.

~Ambrose Redmon

I wouldn’t call my dog Henry a hero. Actually, Henry is a bit of a coward. Although he’s a big, powerful German Shepherd, Henry greets the world with his tail between his legs. Cats make him tremble. Thunder will make him run for cover. Henry is afraid of his shadow. If he hears a knock at the door, he’s under the bed. But Henry was a hero, once.

Henry and I go for walks on a wooded path that runs alongside my house. It’s a peaceful place where my dog and I can get some fresh air, and all of the tensions of the world melt away. It’s also a place where Henry doesn’t have to face his many fears. Oh, there’s the occasional dog with its owner, but most of them are of the Chihuahua type that make him go into hysterics only until they pass him by.

The day Henry decided to be a hero we went for a very long run. It had been a long week and I had a lot of tension I wanted to run off. Henry, too, seemed eager for an extended romp through the woods, so we took the long path that took us through the heart of the forested trail. By the time we finally turned for home it was getting late, and the sun was starting to set over the low hills.

We had run for a while when Henry suddenly stopped short. He sniffed the air several times and then began to whimper. I thought maybe we had run across another Chihuahua. Then I heard the angry growls of a pack of dogs. I pulled Henry close to me and bent down low to crouch behind some bushes. The light was beginning to fade, but through the shadows of the woods I saw the silhouettes of at least a dozen animals.

They moved through the woods as a focused pack. The glow of their eyes was angry and deadly. I could hear them growl and fight among themselves. The biggest animals easily outweighed Henry. They were angry and hungry. They were looking for someone or something to attack, and they had found us.

I could feel Henry tremble against me. He was scared, more scared than he’d ever been before. He sagged against me, and for a moment I thought he might faint. Then suddenly he squirmed in my arms and broke free. He took a few steps, looked back at me, and then ran for the woods. I sat there and watched my dog run to save himself and leave me at the mercy of those wild dogs. Part of me didn’t blame him. I was scared, too.

The dogs got closer. I knew I couldn’t outrun them, so I picked up a rock and prepared to defend myself. The lead dog stopped and raised its head, sniffing the air. I realized that I was downwind, and that it was getting my scent, tracking my location. I raised the rock and waited for the dogs to find me.

Then I heard barking, loud barking from deep in the woods. The dogs stopped and their ears perked up. They heard scrambling through the trees, and turned away from me. It took me a moment to figure it out, but as I watched the dogs break for the woods, I realized that it was Henry doing the barking and running back and forth through the woods. He was drawing them away from me. My coward of a dog, who couldn’t face down a Schnauzer, was drawing a wild pack of dogs away from me and toward him.

Once the dogs were out of sight I ran for the edge of the woods. I was sure they had heard me and were on my heels, but as I broke free of the trees and stumbled onto the path leading back to my house, I saw that I was alone. I could hear barking in the distance, and then I heard a sound that froze my blood. I heard a terrified yelp. In that instant I knew the dogs had found Henry.

I didn’t know what to do. There was no one on the path, no police to call, and I didn’t want to run to the house to get help because I was afraid to leave Henry to the pack of dogs. I looked around and found a large branch and started back towards the forest. If Henry was willing to take them on to help me then I’d do the same for him.

Just then there was the sound of something moving through the trees. I raised the branch, ready to fight the dogs off, but then I saw Henry leap through the bushes. He limped up to me. I could see several scratches on him and there was a nasty gash where a dog must have bitten him on the leg. But he wagged his tail at me and smiled, as if to ask, “Are you okay?” I got down on my knees and hugged him.

Together my dog and I walked home. As I cleaned his wounds and patted his head, I wondered if Henry had suddenly become a courageous dog. But then the wind slammed a shutter against a window and Henry almost jumped out of his skin at the sound. I laughed and stroked his head, realizing that he was still a coward at heart. But that night he had summoned up every ounce of courage he’d had to save me. That made him a hero to me.

~John P. Buentello

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