The Telltale Woof

The Telltale Woof

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

The Telltale Woof

Every dog is a lion at home.

H. G. Bohn

The veterinarian’swords came as no surprise. “I’ll dowhat I can, but I’m not optimistic. Call me tomorrow morning.”

I smoothed the black fur on Yaqui’s head and ran my fingers across the small brown patches above his closed eyes. His normally powerful body was limp, and I could barely detect any rise and fall in his rib cage. Turning away, I reached for Frank’s hand, leaving our shepherd-cross companion stretched out on the polished steel surface of the examining room table.

I barely remember the drive home. Lost in worry, I didn’t realize we had reached the turnoff to our ranch until I heard the frantic barking of the dog we laughingly called “Yaqui’s Great Enemy.” From behind his front-yard fence, Yaqui’s Great Enemy, who guarded the house at the crossroads, dashed back and forth, waiting for Yaqui’s reciprocal challenge. When greeted with silence, he bounced to a standstill, stared at the car, then trotted off toward his den under the porch.

After Frank left for work I wandered about the house, picking aimlessly at chores. Yaqui’s pal, Simba, a hefty mastiff, padded quietly after me, stopping every so often to gaze up at me with questioning eyes.

Dinner that night was subdued as we reassured ourselves that Yaqui would pull through. Both Frank and I privately chastised ourselves for what had happened.

Six months earlier, we had moved onto a ranch in the foothills of the Pine Nut Mountains in western Nevada. Our dogs, who had been used to the confines of backyard suburban living, thrived in their new freedom, spending their days sniffing around the barns and corrals. Often, though, we found them standing by the fence that surrounded the ranch buildings, looking out across the pastures. Yielding to their entreating eyes, we would take themfor walks, letting themprowl through the sagebrush, following tantalizing scents and animal trails. In time, we all became familiar with the sparse desert landscape.

Although we made a conscientious effort to keep the gates shut, occasionally we found one open and the dogs nowhere in sight. But even when they were gone for hours, we rarely worried. There was almost no traffic, and because they were big dogs, we believed them safe from coyotes and mountain lions.

One evening in early December, Simba returned alone. We called into the darkness, listening for Yaqui’s answering bark, but all we heard were the echoes of our own voices. A dozen times during the night we rose to check the circle of light on the porch, but the dawn arrived as empty as our spirits.

For three days we searched. At first we drove for miles along the ranch roads with Simba beside us in our old Suburban, hoping she might give some sign that Yaqui was nearby. Then, as gray clouds moved in from the west and temperatures dropped into the low teens, Frank and I saddled up our horses. We crisscrossed the brush-covered slopes and picked our way through boulder-clogged draws, looking for recent tracks or signs of blood.

On the second afternoon, while we scoured the upper limits of the foothills close to where Red Canyon sliced into the mountain front, we thought we heard his voice, but when the wind settled, the countryside was still. Only the rhythmic sound of Simba’s panting broke the silence.

By the morning of the fourth day, snow was falling steadily. Frank stared out the window as he dressed for work. Neither one of us wanted to verbalize what we were thinking. Then as he picked up his jacket, he called out, “Come on, let’s check the road to Red Canyon one more time.”

Straining to see, we eased the Suburban along the barely discernible dirt track to the top of the slope. There, in the eerie silence of the swirling snow, we sat for a moment. Both of us sensed the search was at an end.

Just as Frank slipped the car into gear, Simba whined. I turned around as she leaped up and pressed her nose against the rear window. She pawed at the glass, her tail waving. It batted against the backs of the seats and stirred the air above our heads. Staring at us, the huge dog tipped her head back and emitted a long, low howl.

No more than twenty feet away was a black shadow, struggling out of the gloom. Clamped firmly on his right front paw was a large, steel jaw-trap. Behind the trap, attached by a knotted strand of barbed wire, trailed a thick, four-foot-long tree limb. The wood was gouged with teeth marks and the wire crimped where desperate jaws had torn at the rusty surface, exposing slashes of fresh steel.

All three of us piled out of the Suburban. Simba licked her friend’s face. Joyfully, she romped away from him, then returning, she bowed her greeting, challenging him to play. But Yaqui only stood and shivered. Cautiously, she approached him again and sniffed at the paw that was swollen beyond recognition, engulfing the metal teeth.

Frank grabbed the trap and stepped on the release mechanism. The rusty hinges refused to budge. He stamped harder on the lever and the jaws scraped opened. Yaqui sank to the ground, whimpering softly as we pried his foot loose.

Scooping up Yaqui’s emaciated body, Frank laid him gently in my arms for the trip to the veterinary hospital. When we approached the main crossroads, Frank slowed, and there as always, barking behind his fence, was Yaqui’s Great Enemy. Too feeble to sit up, Yaqui lifted his head and gave one weak woof. Right then I should have known he would be all right.

The following day the doctor called to say he thought Yaqui would survive but definitely would lose his leg. The day after that, he said Yaqui would keep his leg but would surely lose his foot. The third day, the foot seemed out of danger but a few toes would have to go.

Yaqui survived with all his digits intact, but for the next ten years he wore a prominent scar across the top of his foot. On cooler days he walked with a faint limp, but his spirit was never scarred.

We identified the wood attached to the trap as belonging to a species of tree that grows only in the upper reaches of the canyons, many hundreds of feet above where we found Yaqui. Dragging the trap and its anchor, he had struggled beyond the limits of credible endurance to return to us, trusting that we would be there for him. Thankfully, we were.

Eleanor Whitney Nelson

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