Life on the Line

The recent underwater adventures John had with his cell phone made me reflect upon the first time he went in the water to save a drowning dog.  His unsuccessful attempt involved one of his beloved bird dogs, Spot.  Several years ago Spot and Sis found a couple of raccoons in a tree that was on the bank of one of our ponds.  After some .22 caliber persuasion, the coons were coaxed out of the tree and attempted an escape by swimming across the pond in different directions.  John doesn’t know exactly what happened as his attention was on Sis as she fought with the raccoon she caught.  When he looked back to check on Spot, he had disappeared.  Despite the early spring water temperature of 60º, John jumped in fully clothed to try to find him.  Even if he were a strong swimmer, it would have been difficult to find Spot in the murky water, and locating him didn’t insure survival.  After just a few minutes of searching, he realized the futility of the effort and climbed out of the water.  In addition to Spot, his cell phone was a casualty.  Several weeks later, Spot’s body surfaced, and we had a burial ceremony befitting a beloved family pet and hunting companion of many years.

As much as we hated to lose him, Spot’s death solved a problem we had been struggling with for several months, namely what do you do when a dog’s natural protective instinct goes into overdrive.  As he aged, Spot’s instinct to guard our home somehow crossed the line between protection and aggression.  We had rescued several salesmen and delivery men who were pinned against their vehicles by Spot’s frontal assault, and John’s cousin, Lynn, startled him from sleep only to have her pants ripped as he snapped at her.  They were the lucky ones because they avoided his powerful jaws.  John’s co-worker wasn’t so lucky.  He graciously agreed to feed the dogs while we were on a trip, and he had his kindness repaid by a stealth attack from behind that left a nasty bruise on his leg even though his jeans kept the bite from breaking the skin.  Spot would have been miserable confined to a pen after years of total freedom, and euthanasia was unthinkable.  However, we were increasingly uneasy with him running loose so we felt a bit of relief having the decision taken out of our hands.

The loss was extremely sad for both of us, but I still chastised John a bit about risking his life in the cold water even for Spot.  He assured me he wasn’t in the water for long, and he didn’t get very far from the bank.  Little did I know that in just a few months an even more dangerous rescue attempt would put his life on the line once again.

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