Oh, Rowdy”. I leaned down to my Golden Retriever and fondled his velvety ears and whispered. “I love you. You are such a handsome boy!” He always wore an exquisite look of pleasure when his ears and muzzle were stroked. He bestowed such adoration on me. How could life be bad? I was at the temple of ‘The Dog’. My sins were forgiven and his love engulfed me and got me through another day. I reached for Rowdy’s leather leash and drove him to a nearby state park for a walk and to work on his competitive obedience exercises. Thus would end another long day, talking to the four-legged man in my life, who never talked back, who didn’t care how old I was or how much money I didn’t have.
Champoeg State Park is situated next to a fast-moving river that winds its way through the state of Oregon’s green valley. The trail Rowdy and I walked along was six miles long, following the river on one side of the park, then the path circled around to the Park’s entrance and back down to the river. I held a Flexi, a small device that is a spring-loaded coiled twenty-six foot line, which was attached to Rowdy’s leather collar. Rowdy ran out almost to the end of the Flexi’s line. He knew when he was going to reach the end and feel the uncomfortable tug, so he would stop before that point and run back, his mouth open in a big grin, tongue out and panting, enjoying the moment. His shiny coat and exuberance was a magnet for attracting people, who always commented on his beauty. Now the only men who liked my dog seemed to always be with their girlfriends. I was the last living single forty-year old woman left on the planet.
The sky was darkening as I put Rowdy into his crate in the back of my Toyoya pickup.
“Hey, nice dog”, a voice behind me remarked. I jumped and spun around. My heart beat heavily as I caught a quick glimpse of the man who had spoken. He had an easy smile, but his brown hair and dimples reminded me of my now ex-husband. I couldn’t help but tremble. Rowdy barked and tried to get out of his crate. Was he picking up on my uneasiness?
“Thanks”, was all I could say. He shrugged his shoulders and walked away. I knew it would be a long time before I could trust another man. The emotional pain from the beatings I had taken from my husband and now the waves of loneliness swept over me. The memories were still too close to think about another relationship. I reopened Rowdy’s crate.
“You’re going to have to be my protector from now on, Rowdy boy.”
I watched the brown-haired man drive past me and tried to smile, hating myself for not trusting any male who didn’t have a furry nose and four legs.
“Let’s go home and get some chow, boy.” I gave my blonde companion a hug and gently pushed him back into his crate.
The daily one hour ride home from my job as a book store secretary was usually spent day dreaming of new ways to train Rowdy. When I had purchased him from the breeder in Eugene, Oregon, I had promised to put advanced obedience titles on him. The dog already had an American Kennel Club Companion Dog title with impressive scores. The hours spent perfecting the exercises had been a release from my bad marriage. My husband, Kent, had said many times that I loved my dog more than him. When he was in a drunken rage he promised to kill the dog if I didn’t comply with his wants and needs. It was an easy way to get me to submit to his perverted sexual desires and his need for power.
One evening Kent decided that seeing me crying in the corner wasn’t good enough for him. He snickered at me and growled. ”You’re not good enough for me to wipe my feet on. I filed for divorce Friday. Tomorrow you and the damn dog are out of here.”
For once he was true to his word. The next day, when I returned from work my things were in the front yard, Rowdy sitting loose next to his crate. I was forty years old, and homeless, soon to be divorced. Fortunately a friend had a house for rent and let me move in. It only took five minutes to unload my truck. I had the clothes Kent had thrown in a few boxes, some books, ribbons and trophies and, of course, Rowdy. I cried for hours, feeling sorry for myself. But my Golden canine roommate licked my face and wagged his tail. He gave me the strength to move on: feed the dog, feed myself, go to work, go to garage sales and pick up furniture, dishes, and all the minor possessions one needs to make oneself feel complete. Little by little I picked up the pieces of my existence.
My friends said I was much better off without Kent. They didn’t know the hours I spent sitting on the floor in my dark, empty living room with my arms around Rowdy, talking to him as if he understood. No one loved me but a dog.
After work Rowdy and I joined others at a local training facility and trained dogs, talked about dogs and made plans to do activities with others and their dogs on the weekend. This particular weekend my friend, Chris, and I were going to meet in the small town of Mollala, to drill each other in the obedience exercises. In a few more months we were entered in a Regional Obedience competition in Portland. Each of us dreamed of being in first place, winning the blue ribbon, or at least placing in the top ten of our division. Rowdy could do it and Chris’s tiny Papillon was a dream to watch, its little feet performing each exercise to perfection. If I only knew then what a life changing event that competition was to be I probably would have stayed home alone and watched television. But I practiced each exercise with Rowdy as if we were learning to dance, each time I stopped he sat perfectly by my side, his toes an inch behind mine, facing forward, his head turned up to me, waiting for my next move.
“Forward,” Chris would say to me, acting as a judge, and Rowdy and I would simultaneously move forward, Rowdy prancing by my side, his eyes focused intently on me.
“Fast,” she followed closely, trying to find some fault with our performance. Rowdy’s enthusiasm was his downfall. He leaped forward, not waiting for me to move along with him.
“Halt. Well,” Chris said, “That would have cost you some major points.” I turned and signed, “Why don’t I just let him go into the obedience ring without me? He seems to do much better on his own.” Chris and I laughed. This was a remark we often said about our dogs. They loved working in the ring so much that often they would respond to the judge’s command rather than wait for their owner. It was fun to watch a dog with so much enthusiasm but not a good thing when every mistake cost a point or points and meant the difference between placing and not placing in the ribbons. Chris and I would spend many weekends drilling, perfecting our dog’s every move, discussing ways to close the dog/human interspecies communication gap, and gossiping about other trainers, shows and just life in general.
At the end of one particularly tiring workday, I was oblivious to the other drivers around me on the freeway. There appeared to be an accident somewhere up ahead. The traffic was stopped, giving me time to daydream about my canine pursuits. Someone in the next lane leaned on their car’s horn, noisily bringing me out of my reverie. I glanced over at the driver. It was Kent. He was glaring at me and pointing his finger in anger. I was trapped with nowhere to go, with no exits nearby. My cell phone was in my purse on the floor next to me. To reach it I would have to bend down and would not be able to see the road. The passing lane suddenly opened up and Kent started to drive away but not before he pulled his steering wheel to the right, almost hitting my Toyota pickup, forcing me to swerve off the road.
“Leave me alone! Leave me alone!” I yelled the words several times, the tears falling down my cheeks. All my fears and worries came back to me. I watched his car disappear in the distance but my day was ruined. I needed to stop trembling. I covered my face with my hands and put my head on the steering wheel, finally calming down enough to drive to my small rental house and back to Rowdy.
Was this going to be my future, forever looking over my shoulder, forever tormented by him?