By Caroline Martin
I saw him lingering near the sheep pen. He was so thin, a shadow of a dog. I called to him softly, as I had been doing each evening, coaxing him again to come for the bowl of food I'd been placing near the fence for nearly two weeks. He slipped furtively into the woods when he saw me, like a restless spirit wandering uneasily about the farm. Then I saw him on the road, narrowly avoiding a car, and again limping into the woods. Always vanishing…
One particularly cold evening, when the forecast was for heavy snow, I worried about this dog. How would he fare through the storm? It was winter on Cape Cod. The air was still and full and ponderous. I was the only one still up on the farm, the children having long since fallen asleep, the barnyard quiet. The wood stove was full, its heat inviting me to rest. "Go out and look for that dog," said a distant internal voice. It startled me. And then it came again.
"Go look for that dog!" It was very clear. Then I recognized it. It was familiar. Yes, I had heard it before, when I was quiet enough to listen. It had given me a needed direction, words to a song, comfort. I had learned to heed it. Traces of snow were beginning to fall when I pulled on my coat and started the old truck. I drove to where I had last seen the dog and pulled off the road, looking around. The truck rattled and chortled and stalled.
"Just great," I thought and looked out the window. There, lying beside the truck in a bone thin heap on a stubble of grass, was the dog! Our eyes met. "Well," I whispered, "at last I've found you." He promptly disappeared into the night. Nearly two hours later, after a bit of a chase, my determination paid off. He was in my truck, growling weakly. I made a bed for him in the basement, put out some food, and let him be alone. Outside the snow was falling in earnest.
In the morning, I cautiously introduced him to my family. He was very frightened and cowered at any attempt to pet him. My children and multitude of dogs and cats watched as he crept under a table. He wobbled when he walked. He must have been hungry for a long, long time.
I managed to read the rusty tag on his collar. He came from Wayne, Pennsylvania. I then called the town offices there, and I found the owner to whom he was registered. As I dialed her number, I felt a surge of joy to be able to participate in this reunion. She must have come here on a vacation during the summer and somehow lost her dear companion.
Sadly, I was mistaken. Yes, the woman on the phone said, he was her dog, but she had "gotten rid of him" because he was so damn mean, that he chased her cows. She told me his name was Killer. "Don't let him near kids; he hates kids," she added. She remembered Hardy was the last name of the couple she’d given him to. They were moving to somewhere in Massachusetts. I wasn't about to give up. I went through the phone book, calling every Hardy listed. The fourth call met with success. Yes, they’d adopted Killer, but he was car sick all the way from Pennsylvania, and when they let him out of the car, he had run away. It was a couple of months ago. "Don't you want him back?" I asked incredulously. "You've certainly been looking for him; he's starving and scared, and...."
"Oh, no, keep him," was the disinterested reply. "Our apartment doesn't allow dogs."
I changed his name to Miller. I took him to the veterinarian for whom I worked to be checked. I was told he’d been kicked a lot. Some of his vertebrae were fused together. He had bad hips. He was probably about five or six years old, a much damaged dog. After many weeks of patient encouragement and tender care, Miller began to change. He was a beautiful German Shepherd. He gained weight, grew a shiny new coat, and proudly wore a bandana. He escorted my then very small children everywhere on the farm. He took the lead when I walked the sheep and goats and Tiger, our pet pig. He was affectionate, loyal and happy. During the time I cared for Miller, I also cared for a fostered child, a boy who had been abused, too, when young. Miller and he bonded quite strongly.
Miller graced our lives for five years. He was always beside us. Even when his legs and hips gave out, he was full of courage and trust, allowing me to carry him when he could no longer walk.
I love to remember Miller. I love to listen. I love to witness the effects of kindness. And I love these sweet words by Emily Dickinson. They are etched softly on my heart. They are words to live by: LIFE . . . if I can stop one heart from breaking, I will not live in vain. If I can ease one life the aching, or cool one pain, or help one fainting robin unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.
Caroline Miller is a harpist, mother of four grown children, and was the Director of a school on Cape Cod before recently moving to Santa Fe.