I watch shadows on the eastern ridge change from pink to gold as night retreats. Old dog nudges my hand. I smile, knowing she will be ready today.
Old dog is never wrong. I sigh, smile at him. The vet said she was ready 2 days ago. What does he know? He only reads a report.
My stud dog reads a bitch with canine precision and I have learned to read his unique countdown; attentively patient, increasingly anxious, then demanding. I leap to the conclusion that I could save money and frustration by listening to my stud dog’s nose instead of the vet.
I am momentarily amused by ridiculous metaphors. Noses don’t talk… I smile but still, I am not at peace, even in the intimate privacy of dawn. Why am I suddenly at odds with the decision to breed this bitch? Is it because I shrink from the responsibility of a new litter? Is it the long obligation to puppy owners? Maybe this isn’t sudden, just suddenly acknowledged?
The pink turns into gold, the sky awash in molten treasure.
So, what is it? Too many years “doing dogs”? Bathe, groom, load up, off to distant dog shows? No. I love my friends, the comradery, the thrill of winning, the cookouts, the gossip, the learning. But it IS the same thing, repeated endlessly… Am I like so many of my friends, just weary of it all? Do I really need this litter? Am I willing to be house bound again for weeks?
The gold becomes translucent, then disappears completely and the sky transforms into that famous Carolina Blue. I shrug, somehow less impressed. What is wrong with me?
Slowly, more stealthily than the day itself, reality confronts me. Unbidden, unwelcome. Should I keep a puppy at my age? Common sense says “No” and not to be dissuaded, keeps murmuring in my mind. Then why do the breeding? I don’t need the money. But what else would I DO? Watch soap operas? Take up knitting? Volunteer work?
The silent clarity of a new day is ruined by the clatter of my thoughts. I am torn between doing what I have done for over 60 years and wondering why I do it at all.
Pushing away reality, I head for the kitchen. Coffee will help. I’ll not go back to the east window. Not now. I’ll just go let the dogs out early. An unexpected treat for my little friends.
Cup in hand, I go out to the patio and six surprised faces emerge through the flaps. They are such good friends; they never bark or disturb me until time to go out. Then, the slippery sound of the patio door is like a fire alarm to firefighters! They burst through the dog doors, joy in their hearts. “It’s morning, we can bark!” they shriek in chorus.
But this early they are unsure, confused, all except the stud dog, already a pogo stick, bouncing up high so he can catch sight of his lady love. The others stretch, displacing their confusion, wondering what happened to their trusty internal clock.
I let them into the yard, take my coffee and go up to the deck where we used to sit in the early morning. Pushing memories away, I smile at the morning doggy routine.
The little stud dog turns away from his lady-love, reluctant but commanded by his bladder. He hurries to the distant fence. Forsaking the ritual check of the fence line in hopes some critter intruded during the night, this morning he trots briskly from post to post, lifting his leg dutifully and quickly.
How does he measure it so precisely? He is so funny. Such a little man. Then he bounds back across the dew-laden grass that I no longer worry about staining his whites.
Suddenly, he stops. Frozen by awareness of something in the adjacent woods.
He stands on tippy-toe, nose twitching. Takes a step forward. I’m holding my breath. A few feet away “Junior” catches whatever sound or scent drifts on the stirring breeze. He too freezes in mid-stride.
There they stand. The stallion and the yearling. The pack leader so magnificent it gives me goose bumps. So intent, radiating challenge, assuring protection. I am enthralled. No camera could capture that snapshot but it is forever vaulted in my memory.
Suddenly he bolts towards the fence, shouting “Lookout, here I come, I’m ten feet tall and can whip a wildcat!” The yearling matches him stride for stride, fueled with juvenile testosterone. The girls race across the yard, shrieking “Here we come, we’ll tear it apart!!!” and then utterly of one mind, at the fence line they surge left, about-turn and flow to the right, never breaking stride. Then, stopping as though by signal, they rear up on the fence, listening, noses twitching.
The leader stalks over to anoint a post, signaling he has “handled it.” Another duty calls. He gallops back to his lady love. Intruders forgotten, his pack momentarily unimportant, he is what he is.
The next generation is about to be conceived. I sit back with cold coffee. How could I deny something so magical and magnificent? Could I be so self-centered as to put my self-pity above love for these creatures?
They continue the ritual of the new day, exploring every inch of their space. Excited over a grub the old dog has found, they all crowd in to dig up the expensive Bermuda sod. Oh well. The puppy I kept is going to a pet home this weekend. He is too big but sooooo uncanny, so tuned in. They will love him, never really understanding how unique he is and how much I wanted to keep him.
I am not alone. I lift cold coffee in a salute to God for allowing me to assist in the creation of something so incredible. Life is good. How could I have ever doubted?
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