Bullet’s Dog

Bullet’s Dog

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Bullet’s Dog

Dogs love company. They place it first on their short list of needs.

J. R. Ackerley

One morning in early June, I went outside to feed our horse Bullet. Usually, Bullet waits patiently at the fence for his breakfast, but this morning he was lingering near the two tall oak trees in the center of the pasture where he liked to spend the hottest hours of the day.

Curious why he wasn’t eager for his breakfast, I peered across the pasture at him, hoping he wasn’t sick. Then as he began to slowly walk toward me, I noticed a blotch of red fur hunkering down in the tall grass beneath one of the trees. So this was what held Bullet’s attention this morning: another stray dog had found its way onto our property. Most of them shied away from our large retired racehorse, but this dog seemed to feel safe in the shelter of the tall grass in spite of Bullet. I placed a bucket of alfalfa cubes inside the fence. After Bullet ate them, I would give him a few of the oatmeal cookies he loved more than anything.

It was a glorious morning, so I sat down on my back steps, reluctant to go back inside and start my day. As Bullet ate his alfalfa cubes, the dog rose cautiously to its feet. The dog stared at Bullet for a long moment and then slowly made its way toward the horse. It paused every few steps and looked at me intently to make sure I wasn’t a threat. As the dog drew closer to Bullet, I held my breath. I didn’t know how Bullet would react to an animal that approached while he was eating. Knowing that a kick from a horse can be fatal to a dog, I was about to shout at the dog to scare it away. Just then Bullet swung his head and looked at the dog for a moment. Unperturbed by the approaching animal, he turned back to his food and began to eat again.

The dog drew close enough to snag a cube that Bullet had dropped. My heart broke as I watched the dog—a female—chewing on the alfalfa. I knew she had to be extremely hungry to attempt to eat horse feed.

I went inside the house to find something that the dog could eat. I had some leftover meat loaf in the refrigerator that I had planned on serving for dinner. I put the meat loaf in an old aluminum pie tin and walked toward the fence with it. The dog ran to the safety of the tall grass near the oak trees as soon as I took one step in her direction. I put the food down on the ground and tried to coax her toward me. After several minutes, I gave up and went back inside the house. She would probably come for the food as soon as I was out of sight.

A little while later, while folding laundry, I realized that I had not yet given Bullet his cookies. I grabbed a handful out of the box we kept under the sink and went back outside. To my surprise, Bullet was kneeling in the grass with the dog next to him. I smiled at the warm picture they made. Knowing that I carried his treat, Bullet got up quickly and galloped to the fence to meet me. The dog watched as I tossed the cookies over the fence. I noticed that she had not yet gotten the courage to venture outside the fence to get the meat loaf I had left for her.

Again I sat down on the back steps, trying to think of how to get the dog to overcome her fear and come for the meat loaf. For some reason, she seemed to feel safe within the confines of the pasture. Noticing that Bullet was eating, the dog began to move forward slowly, watching me all the while. He might share his alfalfa with you, but he’ll never let you at his oatmeal cookies, I said to myself. But to my surprise, Bullet watched with only mild interest as the dog leaped forward and grabbed a cookie. She swallowed the cookie in one famished gulp, then darted forward to snatch another one. There were no more cookies left, but the dog stood beneath Bullet and scurried for the crumbs that fell from the horse’s mouth, licking the ground furiously to get at every last morsel.

When Bullet walked back toward the shade of the oak trees, the dog trotted along beside him. All day long, whenever I looked out the window toward the pasture, the dog was always close to Bullet, either running along at his side or lying in the grass near him. The dog appeared to be devoted to the horse, who had willingly shared his food with her.

It was three days before I coaxed the dog out of the pasture. She got down on her belly and crawled toward me, her large brown eyes begging me not to hurt her. Whimpering, partly in fear and partly with joy, she allowed me to gently pet her. I noticed that she was young and quite beautiful, in spite of being malnourished. I found myself calling her Lucy, and knew that this stray was here to stay.

Though Lucy eventually warmed to my husband, Joe, and me, she always preferred Bullet’s company the most. She spent most of the day inside the pasture with him. They would run together with great exuberance and joy until they got tired and then drop in the grass beside each other to rest. Bullet always shared his cookies with Lucy. Often Bullet would lower his head and nuzzle Lucy, and she would reach up and lick his face. It was obvious that they loved each other. At night Lucy slept in the stall next to Bullet.

When visitors commented on our new dog, we always laughed and said, “Lucy isn’t our dog. She’s Bullet’s.”

Lucy brought joy into the life of an aging racehorse, and much amazement and wonder into ours.

Elizabeth Atwater

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