84: Channeling Their Inner Gladiator

84: Channeling Their Inner Gladiator

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?

Channeling Their Inner Gladiator

The dog, in life the firmest friend, the first to welcome, foremost to defend.

~Lord Byron

Just enough snow covered the ground that Saturday morning for the dogs to leave tracks as they trotted outside. Marcus and Maximus trailed Buffy as she led the way. I stood in the open doorway and grinned at the sight of the two large Maremma Sheepdogs following the small Beagle.

A red squirrel diverted my attention as it ran past me into the house. I spent the next half hour chasing the squirrel before I finally caught it and released it outside.

By then the dogs had disappeared. I hadn’t seen the direction they took, but I wasn’t worried. My home is located in a clearing in the middle of eight acres in a rural community in upstate New York.

I stood on the front deck and called the dogs’ names. Marcus and Maximus were rescues, six and five years old. Although gentle in temperament, Maremmas were originally bred as guard dogs for sheep. Their timid nature caused them to be wary of strangers, but I figured they wouldn’t stray too far from fifteen-year-old Buffy.

When they did not respond, I went out to look for them. Although I didn’t see the dogs, their paw prints were clearly visible in the snow. Buffy still appeared to be leading the way. The tracks disappeared as they entered the wooded area surrounding my house.

It was beginning to get dark. Now I was worried. After returning home for warmer clothes, I took the car to continue my search. Still no sign of the dogs.

Back at the house, I filled their dishes and placed them on the deck, hoping hunger and the smell of food would bring them home. I continued to call their names until I grew hoarse. Then I turned on all the outside lights. Surely the lights would beckon them home.

I resumed the search early Sunday morning, this time with my nephew and his two adult sons. We split up to search the woods and fifty acres of surrounding farmland.

Were the dogs snatched? Marcus and Maximus were healthy, noble-looking purebred dogs. They would be attractive to thieves. But few strangers travelled through our rural area, so this probably wasn’t something I needed to worry about.

Of more concern were the weather and the wildlife. Coyotes usually fed on small mammals in the summer and fall, but by January they were hungry enough to attack small deer . . . and dogs. Due to her age, Buffy would make a convenient meal.

On Monday, our search efforts extended beyond local family members. We called Animal Control and gave them our contact numbers in case they heard anything. We also called the local game warden.

Each night I left the outside lights on and clung to dwindling hope. On Wednesday, despite a snowstorm, we drove to the rescue farm where I had adopted the Maremmas. Although the farm was twenty-five miles away, they might have heard news of Marcus and Maximus.

The woman at the Maremma rescue farm suggested we speak to a local psychic. By this time I was desperate enough to consider anything that might help. The psychic said Buffy was alive and two big dogs were with her inside a red barn. I remembered an abandoned red barn a few miles from my home. It was worth a try, especially since we had no other leads.

But the snowstorm that began earlier in the day developed into a blizzard. We barely made it home safely. Poor visibility prevented us from reaching the barn until the next morning. We found no sign of the dogs. Even if they had been there, the fresh snow would have covered their tracks.

Although we continued to search daily, I imagined the worst. Freezing rain fell on top of the snow and the temperature dropped to twenty degrees. I steeled myself for the possibility that if we found anything at all, it would be Buffy’s remains. Even if the Maremmas survived, an elderly Beagle didn’t stand a chance in the brutal weather.

By Friday, we had covered nearly 500 acres of mostly farmland. That night, the howling of coyotes echoed through the dark, reminding me of Buffy’s diminishing chances of survival. The following day we explored the last fifty acres of farmland and even returned to the barn described by the psychic.

Then we caught a break.

A woman named Lee had been hiking along a dirt road and spotted a muddy dog that appeared more dead than alive. When Lee approached, the dog lifted her head and even attempted a few steps before collapsing. Two large, white dogs watched from a nearby high ridge.

As Lee picked up the frail Beagle, she glanced back at the ridge. The two large dogs had disappeared.

Lee took the dog home and called Animal Control. They notified us. Gratefully, we picked up Buffy, a mere four miles from my house, and brought her home.

As we drove up my long driveway, I was shocked to see Maximus and Marcus sitting on the front deck of the house. True to their timid nature, they ran into the woods when my nephews exited the car.

When the guys drove away, Marcus and Maximus returned to the house. I placed Buffy in a blanket in front of the wood-burning stove. Maximus rested his head on her body and they both slept. The next morning, Maximus again walked over to her as she slept, placed his head across her body, and stayed in that position for more than an hour.

A thorough examination of all three dogs yielded strange results. Buffy was weak, dehydrated, and covered in mud, but she did not have any injuries. However, the Maremmas suffered multiple cuts and bites. A piece of Marcus’s lip had been torn away, requiring several stitches.

The next day, my nephew explored the area where Buffy was found. Paw prints and hollows preserved in the snow told an amazing story. The tracks led to an impression in the snow that was about the size of Buffy. A larger impression was next to it—just the right size for Maximus. A set of dog prints circled those two hollows around and around, as if Marcus had been on guard duty.

In a wooded area nearby, bloodstains in the snow gave silent testimony to a violent confrontation.

All this happened four miles from home. Marcus and Maximus proved they were never lost when they beat us to the house and waited on the front deck as we arrived. They could have returned home any time that week, but instead they remained with a small, elderly dog who needed their protection.

Two months later, shortly after her sixteenth birthday, Buffy sat on a large pillow on the deck. Basking in the warmth of the early spring sun, she drew her final breath, surrounded by two buddies who chose to stay by her side until the end.

~David O’Neill

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