“As soon as they run away,” I say, “it’s back to the kennels.”
Last Saturday I’d been to an all-day conference in Leesburg and the puppies had been locked in their stall for over six hours.
“Let’s go get the puppies,” I told our dogs as I opened the mud-room door to let them out when I got home.
Ashie picked up a trot, leading the way, ready to continue her destiny as best puppy-sitter in history, Jake ran into the field with birds on his mind, Spud stood at the edge of the porch watching, unwilling to step into the fray.
At the barn I called, “Puppieeeees,” from the double Dutch door. They scrambled against the stall door, desperate to get out. They had dug a hole toward China in the center of the stall about three feet in diameter and at least as deep. They stopped at the hydrant next to the door to lap from a bucket of fresh water I keep there, then scrambled over one another to freedom. A cricket caught Motive’s attention as it scurried under the barn siding. She lunged at it and barked, but came when she saw me holding the gate open for her. We headed for the pond as the evening light turned auburn, Spud left the porch to follow us, Jake met us at the chicken coop. “Good dogs,” I said. I was glad to be outside too.
We have a circuit: to the pond; up the hill to the church yard; down the hill to the grove of Russian Olive trees; through the fence line into our “back field” where Bill planted warm-season grasses for the quail who never came; then back toward the house by way of an adjacent field where my mare Avery and her donkey Bridget live.
The puppies were wild from the get-go. They were at the pond way ahead of me or the other dogs, they were at the church yard by the time I got to the pond, I hoped to find them in the Russian Olives hunting for the skunk that lives there (we’ve smelled him for the last month) but they never showed. I continued to the back field where gold finches were feasting on thistle as tall as me. In the mares’ field I realized that I’d lost the puppies and doubled back.
Evening was turning to darkness. When I reached the churchyard I heard them down at the pond. By the time I reached the pond, they were gone again. I backtracked to the house where Jake was waiting with Spud. Ashie was on my heals, nervous from the tension in my voice as I called and called for the pups.
It’s not as if they were pups any more, really. They outweighed Jake. They could tackle Spud. Ashie could barely keep them at bay. Monarch jumped up in my lap earlier in the week, a game we used to play when he was smaller. His nose and tail overhung either side of the bench. I was astonished at how much he’d grown so suddenly. They were eating about twenty-five pounds of dog food every five days. Recently they spent more time with their noses to the ground than looking to me for guidance.
I stood at the edge of our field calling. Calling. I could barely make out two white splotches in the church yard, darkened forest in the background, alabaster grave-stones in the foreground. I walked toward the stone wall that describes the graveyard. Motive was at the edge of the woods. Monarch disappeared within. If they went in there together, I’d never get them out; it’s a twenty-acre hard-wood forest with thick undergrowth and sharp limestone outcroppings. Motive sat down, unwilling to leave her brother but aware of the panic in my voice. Before she came, she needed to know if she was in trouble. If so, she’d bolt. I crouched on one knee to welcome her. She stood and ran toward me. Her brother must have seen from the shadows. He caught her and tackled her from behind and then me in his wake.
That was it. Our last night together. The next day I called Guy. “They ran away last night,” I said. “I have to bring them back.” Of course he understood.
They came eleven weeks ago, a pile of white puppy flesh entwined on the floor of a dog crate in the back of our truck, whining for their litter mates, unsure about the world. They left standing erect, each in his and her own crate because they could no longer fit in a single crate together, tails up, noses into the wind, ears flapping, ready to hunt for life.
Thanks, everyone, for reading about Monarch and Motive. I’m signing off to complete other writing projects. I’ve written a memoir and three novels, for which I’m searching for a publisher, and beginning in January I’ll be a John H. Daniels Fellow at the National Sporting Library in Middleburg, Virginia. It’s been fun writing about Monarch and Motive, and fun hearing from you. Happy Trails!