Saturday, December 11, 2010


I met my dog Zappa purely by chance. As I pulled up to an  intersection of two major roads outside of Dead Stick, Arizona, I saw her on the roadside looking frantically at passing motorists. She appeared to be anxiously hoping her family would stop and pick her up. I feared she might dart out onto the highway and so I stopped and approached her. She looked at me with nervous-hopefulness; I assumed her to be abandoned and approached her with hopeful-nervousness. People here have the foolish idea that it's better to dump a dog in the desert and hope it will be be taken in than to take it to an animal shelter. Coyotes swarm the area and a domestic dog is hardly a match for one and is no match for two; they keep the place thoroughly cleaned of "stray" pets.

She was a young female German Shepherd of medium build and trimmed ears. She had on no collar. I took off my belt and applied it as a leash and led her back to the truck. The other tasks of the day were put to one side as I drove her to town and deliver her to the animal shelter. The town’s shelter denied responsibility as I had found her outside the city limits. They directed me to the county shelter another seven miles off. And so I drove her there.

She was nervous at first, but the ride in the truck calmed her and by the time we arrived, she was positively grinning. I described her to the animal control people, one of whom stepped outside to have a look and declared, “That’s a mighty pretty dog you have there.” I looked at her, and she at me; it was then I realized how utterly stupid it was to deliver such a beautiful creature to a shelter. I could keep her at home while I ran an ad in the local paper to find her owner. And if no one claimed her…well then…I had a dog.

So I took her home, and ran the ad for a week, knowing it would not be answered. And, in all honesty, whoever dumped her didn't  deserve to have her back. I anointed her Zappa, and introduced her to my two Rhode Island Red chickens, Gabriella and Henrietta. Zappa adopted the chickens as pets of her own and positively fawned on them. The chickens would wander as one about the yard and the dog would follow closely behind, with a big grin on her face, nearly stepping on their tails. She liked to see them move. If they sat down she would nudge them to get them to move about. On one occasion, I saw the chickens squat and refuse to move anymore. Zappa wanted to see more action and in her frustration picked one up by the neck. The result was much squawking from the offended hen. I scolded her and she promptly dropped the bird. The poor bird, very upset and possibly bruised, came running to me squawking in a hoarse voice as if to level some inarticulate complaint against the rough handling she had just received. I gave the hen a little stroking and sent her on her way.

As with all dogs she loved a ride in the truck. While passing through town we pulled up to a red light. As I waited I adjusted my center view mirror. In the mirror was a cop car. Zappa turned to me with a grin and reached out with her nose to sniff the scent I had left on the mirror. As she did, she accidentally nudged the mirror causing it to go askew. “No! Don’t mess with the mirror!”, I scolded and I readjusted the mirror. I could see the cop grinning. I turned to look at Zappa, she grinned and reached out with her nose and again nudged the mirror throwing it off even more. “Nooo!! Don’t mess the mirror!!”, I sputtered in exasperation. I gave her nose a playful swipe with one finger. At this point, was really grinning, and so too was the cop. Zappa’s grin widened to include her back molars. Now she understood how the game was played. Again, she reached out and bumped the mirror. This time the mirror jumped off its mount and fell to the floor of the truck. “Noooooo!!! Don’t mess with the mirror!!!”, I howled setting the parking brake, I scrabbled about on the truck’s floor for the mirror. I replaced the mirror and witnessed the cop shaking uncontrollably with laughter.

Zappa was a home body. I had no fence around the house at that time. The first instance I drove away without her, she attempted to follow. I led her back by the collar and explained as best I could in my inarticulate people-speak that she was to remain on guard and take good care of her chickens. It took only one lesson for her to catch on and from that day forth she remained faithfully in place. I built her a nice dog house and she was gracious enough to share it with her chickens during the day. They had a house of their own for use at night, but enjoyed napping in the dog house beside Zappa. The three together was too beautiful a sight to forget. Regrettably I did not take a photo.

The end came in a very stupid way, when I came home to find one of the hens ripped to pieces. The other hen, in her terror had stuffed her head into a small bush. Her rump protruded for all the world to see, but as her head was hidden and her eyes closed, in the simple mind of a chicken that was sufficient for her to think she was invisible. I accused Zappa of killing the chicken. I thought perhaps she had tried to pick up the hen and the hen in its panic had squirmed and fluffed up its feathers in the dog’s mouth. The feeling and scent of a bird struggling in a dog’s mouth is enough to awaken in most any dog the most primal urges and I assumed Zappa had gone off the deep end and ripped the hen to pieces accidentally-on-purpose. I scolded her, I railed at her, and I threw the carcass at her and made her look at it as I left it there in front of her house. She looked sheepish, confused and hurt. And I declared I could not have a chicken killing dog in my life and resolved to give her away.

How perfectly stupid. First of all there was no fence around the property and I had seen a pack of dogs from one of the neighbors pass by the house on occasion. In addition, how could I have equated that beautiful, obedient, intelligent dog with a hen? I could get another chick for a dollar and I could have kept them separated by bit of cheap fence. There was no comparison. Nevertheless, I placed an ad and found a new home for Zappa within a few days. She happily boarded her new family’s vehicle. I watched to see if she would turn around to look at me as she was driven away, but a dog is a very adaptable creature and I didn’t deserve any better than to be ignored. In an instant, she had a new family to protect. I wonder if she every thinks about that insane man who railed at her for failing to protect her hen from a pack of roaming dogs. Giving her away was the dumbest thing I’ve done in ages.

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