It was discouraging to have a dog that does not want you around, except when you fill the food bowl. Dixie’s favorite spot in the house was by the front door, looking out at the street or by the living room window staring ut at the twelfth tee. (I used to live in a golf community.) You could just tell that she was dreaming of leaving. And I was not sure I wanted her to stay.
One Friday morning, my handyman left the side door open; it was just for a second while he loaded his truck, and Dixie was gone. For an hour I looked everywhere in the community with no luck.
I decided to call animal control. Dixie had identification tags on her collar and a microchip implanted in her shoulder, but I feared the worst. I was reaching for the telephone when it rang.
The woman’s voice on the other end was hysterical. “There is a huge, black animal on the thirteenth keeping everyone away from the hole! Is that your dog? There are rules against—”
I ran outside. “Dixie!” I screamed. “Dixie! Come here, now!”
To my astonishment I saw her come, tearing down the fairway at top speed. She was fast. Dixie avoided me and made a beeline to the back door. So, she knew where she lived now. That was news to me.
When I came in the door, Dixie lay on her bed, seemingly unconcerned about the ruckus she had caused outside. “Dixie! Come here!” To my surprise she obeyed and even more astonishing, she looked contrite.
Now, I had a dilemma; she had come and I should reward her, but she had run away and I could not reward that behavior. But she had come; wasn’t that the most important thing? I grabbed a small piece of leftover chicken. Her ears perked up, her eyes became luminous and she sat at attention.
I knew I should not feed her people food; she had a sensitive stomach. I knew there was a chance of diarrhea if I gave her the chicken, and it was against doctor’s orders. Dixie whined. I gave her the chicken. For the first time I felt hopeful; we were making progress, but not much really changed between us until Sunday.
The weather was beautiful. It had rained a little on Saturday and there was still some moisture on the flower petals. When the breeze stirred the trees, tiny droplets fell. Because few golfers were out I decided to take Dixie on a long walk along the far edge of the golf course.
As the sun climbed higher, the cool morning evolved into a sultry afternoon; it was time to head back. Without warning, a Scottish terrier jumped from a veranda and attacked, knocking me to the ground. I slipped on the muddy ground and fell, twisting my leg and cutting my knee on some stones. I was dazed for a few seconds; it took a while to understand that the dogs were fighting.
Dixie’s leash had slipped from my grasp; I reached for it, but it was out of reach and I was having a hard time getting up from the slippery grass and oozy mud. It was frightening, hearing the snarling and growling; when my eyes focused, I saw blood running down the terrier’s neck.
My first instinct was to control the situation. “Dixie, come!” She came immediately; although I knew that she had had some obedience training, I had not expected her to comply, not in the heat of a fight.
For a moment everything was quiet. The Scottish terrier staggered away about ten feet, before making a sharp 180 degree turn and attacking again. It was inexplicable behavior.
Dixie jumped between the terrier and me, clearly warning it away. It stopped for just a moment, as if considering its next move. Then suddenly as if deciding to throw caution to the wind; it attacked.
“Oh, hell!” I screamed. “Kill the stupid thing!” Dixie needed no further encouragement.
Now, I know I should not have said that; my only defense was that I was angry and frightened. My leg was hurt and bloody; my clothes were covered in mud. I was not in a generous mood.
Miinutes later the Scottish terrier’s owner arrived, screaming about his poor, little dog and the vicious “police” dog mauling it.
Standing now, I managed to grab Dixie’s collar and I pulled her away from her attacker; she did not fight me. When the man reached for his dog, it bit him and attacked us again. This time Dixie bit down hard on the dog’s shoulder; I could tell she had really hurt the terrier. It yelped and fell to the ground, whimpering. Dixie stepped back and watched for signs of movement. Wisely, the terrier decided to stay down.
Dixie leaned against my thigh; I looked down and when our eyes met, she cocked her head. Suddenly, I understood what she wanted to know.
“It’s okay, Dixie. It’s okay.” I told her. And it was okay. She had done nothing wrong. She had defended herself and protected me. I rubbed her head, realizing for the first time what a truly beautiful dog she was.
Dixie and I started to walk away, but the Scottish terrier’s owner blocked the path. “Look at my dog! My poor baby!” he screamed. “Who is going to pay the vet for what your dog did?”
Suddenly, my Latin temper exploded; I used decidedly unladylike language telling him where he could stuff his dog and his concerns over vet payment. My words made him angrier; he raised his fist.
Dixie’s ears flattened against her head; the fur along her back stood on end and she displayed the excellent condition of her large, white fangs.
The man stepped aside. Once again she had protected me and I knew we would be best friends for a long time.
“Good dog, Dixie.” I said. “What a good dog!”
She looked up at me and definitely smiled.
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