By Diane Lockspeiser
Our first springtime in Andes, we were pleasantly surprised that the dogs in our neighborhood wandered freely. It was like living in a dog park! Our little puggle Xena wasn’t (still isn’t) very friendly to other dogs, but our big goofy Rottweiler, Duke, was in heaven. Soon it became routine for the other dogs to come calling for him and they would wander off into the woods together.
At first I was concerned that they might get into trouble somewhere, but a neighbor reassured me that as long as they don’t go into town it’s okay. I again became concerned as many people started talking about bear sightings in our area. Someone to whom I had given permission to hunt deer in our woods even told me he saw bear tracks in the mud there!
Then he pointed to our barn, where there were fresh scratches next to the door that did, I admit, look like claw marks, but I knew them to be where Duke had scratched when he wanted to join me in the barn one afternoon. “Are you sure you’re not mistaking our dog for a bear?” I started asking. Everyone answered me with various versions of, “I can tell a dog from a bear!” all of them with a tone that said “Don’t be ridiculous!” Soon I saw the tracks in the woods, and then I saw Duke making identical tracks. Again I started asking people if maybe they were mistaking our dog for a bear and again I got the same exasperated answers.
I bought Duke a bright orange reflective collar, just in case. Reports of sightings kept making the rounds, so maybe there really was a bear around. A neighbor told us that he kept seeing the bear travelling back and forth across a meadow, between our woods and the stream on the other side.
Well, one day I was out in the yard talking with my son about it when he suddenly pointed and said “Look!” A large black animal was indeed making its way across the meadow. For a split second, we both thought it was a bear headed our way… until I saw the glint of the silver dog tag reflecting the sun, and started laughing. It was Duke, his collar not visible from a distance because of the folds of his saggy neck and the thickness of his fur.
Now, concerned about our dog getting himself shot by someone who thinks they can tell a dog from a bear, I thought about putting a tee shirt on him or something. I soon found something perfect in the boxes we were still unpacking. I didn’t know if he would mind wearing my husband’s old reflective jogging vest, but he loved it! It must have reeked of “eau de Steve,” the sweaty odor of Duke’s favorite person. And the “bear sightings” suddenly stopped.
Duke did eventually get in trouble going into the yard of someone we didn’t know, who was understandably afraid and reported him. He spent his last couple of years on earth under “house arrest,” only being allowed out on a leash. This past summer he went to a different kind of heaven, the great dog park in the sky, or wherever dogs go when they are done gracing us with their loving presence.
We miss you, big guy. May you roam freely wherever you are.~