“I DON’T HAVE TIME TO PLAY, YOU SILLY DOG…”
…says Lona while ruffling the canine ears.
Her neighbors call her ‘Old Lona’. Some say she’s barely bigger than a bar of soap. Just over five feet tall and, maybe, outweighing a hundred-pound sack of chicken scratch.
This octogenarian lives alone, deep in the desert, with her cattle, range horses and beloved dog.
Molly is a young livestock guard dog who weighs only slightly more than her owner. At night she sits vigil on a nearby hill overlooking the house where anything moving can be seen.
During the day, dog and owner aren’t far apart. Where one goes, the other is nearby.
When Molly gets bored, she does her best to entice Lona into a game of Work-Glove-Keep-Away by snitching the glove from the pocket of her work jacket and standing in front of her, cross-bodied, while looking back expectantly over her shoulder.
However, when a working dog knows her job of protecting everything and everyone in her territory and she does it by outsmarting her owner…confusion happens:
One of the things to know about Lona is she worries about her livestock. On this day she was concerned about a missing heifer with a brand-new calf. They hadn’t showed up at the usual time.
Just before bedtime, she stepped outside to take a last look around. There was no sign of the bovine pair. Unable to sleep, there wasn’t much she could do but sip her nighttime tea and worry.
Later that night, still unable to sleep, she climbed out of bed. It was a soft and lovely summer night. She grabbed her flashlight. Dressed only in a nightgown and raggedy tenny runners, Lona stepped out the door hoping to spot that young cow. She saw nothing and walked into the dark.
Molly stretched in her bed under a juniper tree and trotted along behind.
Two hours later, still searching, Lona was edging around a brush pile when she stumbled on an old tangle of barbwire and fell into some rocks. Not seriously injured, she’d badly bruised her gimpy shoulder and was unable to use her arms to get back on her feet. No matter which way she twisted, rolled or shifted each time she tried to stand, no luck.
Molly stood watching the entire process. She waited a moment, then stepped in front of Lona, stood cross-bodied, and looked back expectantly.
“I don’t have time to play!!” Lona hollered, frustrated tears streaming. She pushed the dog away.
It’s a quiet and creeping vulnerability that builds to an overwhelming wave when an aging and partially clad women is incapacitated and…no one, but her…knows where she is. Panic saps vital energy as it seeps into the widening cracks of an otherwise strong personality.
Not one to give up, Lona tried to rise again. Molly blocked her crosswise and looked back over her shoulder. Lona was weakening. Sobbing with fear and frustration, still sitting in the rocks she rested one hand on the dog’s shoulder. Molly immediately spread her front paws and braced herself.
Lona paused and took a deep breath. She experimented. with her good arm. Wriggling and squirming into a kneeling position, then leaning heavily on the dog’s shoulders, she wobbled to her feet.
Balancing Lona by standing still, Molly displayed a toothy grin. Then, slower than a snail makes it’s trail, they tottered toward home, with Molly acting as a furry crutch.
Hours later, before dawn, safe in her doorway, Lona hugged her dog, “I didn’t understand what you were trying to tell me, I’m sorry.”
Then, she fixed herself a mug of hot tea and plunked down in her favorite rocker. As her fear and adrenaline subsided, her body relaxed and her head drooped. She drifted into a much-needed sleep.
Lona’s tea was cold beside her chair when first light touched the living room window. She opened the front door and spotted the missing heifer and a healthy calf grazing on her front lawn. Slowly, she made her way over to where Molly was snoozing in the lilacs. With her good arm, she hugged her dog’s big head, whispering, “Thank you.”
These days, Lona’s scrapes, gouges and sore shoulder are healing. Every so often, she’ll pause in the day’s work and give Molly a hug: “Thank you for being there.”
For Molly’s part, she’s not confused about her new abundance of one-armed hugs. She’s adapting to the extra attention just fine. For her, the important thing is that she and Lona are together and there’s always more work gloves to snitch.
Author’s Note, the rest of the story:
About three years after this story took place, Lona passed. Her death was peaceful and not unexpected.
But it ripped the roots out of Molly’s life.
Since that time, Molly has found a new home. Her owners love her and gave her a job to do. Now she guards piglets from desert predators and wandering neighbor dogs.
At this writing, Molly is still grieving the loss of Lona. But she’s showing signs of adapting to her new life with Paul and Leslie.
To keep the dog from wandering in search of her long-lost friend, the new owners tied her near the pigpens as she watches over her new charges. She’s adopted an old horse trailer…complete with humongous dog bed…as her very own house. This gives her plenty of shade in the summer and a break from the howling winter wind.
About two months after Molly moved to her new home, Paul and Leslie were away from the farm when they got a frantic call from their caretaker.
“Molly’s been doing a lot of barking so I went out to check and she’s broke her chain and disappeared!!” he said.
Neither Paul nor Leslie were sure what to do or where the dog would go. An hour later, they received a much calmer phone call.
“Good news,” the caretaker said, “I found Molly, but she’s got blood all over her muzzle. I think she killed a coyote that was trying to get into the piglets.”
Molly is still having a tough time with her grief, but new owners and dog are working out their differences. Maybe best of all, she has a job to do and pigs to guard.
So folks, please send a good-hearted, hard working dog a kind thought or gentle prayer. She’s trying her best to make a way in this world and would likely appreciate it.
This is just one story from my book ‘Hugging a Dog.’ If you’d like to read more or share with your loved ones, it is available in these bookstores. Click the links for access.