03 June 2018

The kind of person who gets poison oak.

Part Two, Part One is called Bambi Quick The Thicket

In these bipartisan times, the world is easily divided into two kinds of people. There are the those of us who never get poison oak, and there are the others, the people who do. I’ve always been a never gets it. I spend a lot of time tromping through it, as do my dogs, and the worst rash I’ve ever gotten was a tiny speck on one wrist. Maybe officially that made me a person who does get it, but I always considered myself a not. I can listen to someone who is whining about their rash, and silently label them a weakling. Possessing the skin that can’t withstand the touch of a plant, sensitive skin that must be protected when tromping through the outdoors. Don’t touch the nature, mind the leaves of three, the others with the delicate constitution. Some of us who can move through the woods unfettered, and everybody else must move around it.

The day that followed the loss of Gustavo, I tried to come to terms with some harsh new realities. I now had only two dogs. I had sent my most precious dog out ahead of me into a coyote ambush into instant death. And I was now a fragile snowflake, with a rapidly spreading poison oak rash on my whole left side.

I was sure that he must have died instantly. I never heard any peep, not a sound, from him. Gustavo is a dog who if you even touch his hair wrong, screams. Loudly. Like blood curdling, high octave, scare the neighbors loud. He’s a pretty quiet dog in general. He makes gurgling hamster love noises when he’s happy, growls at paper towels that he’d like to tear up, and barks at the neighborhood cats that climb on our backyard fence. But touch him wrong, pluck a piece of delicate fur or stick a thermometer in his hiney, and you’ll hear wailing at a range that’s surprising from such a small body.

For hours I had thrashed through brush, screaming his name, only being answered by a coyote. Wanting to hear him scream back. Never once hearing anything from him, no scream of dismemberment, no death scream, not a single sound. There had been two coyotes and I was only getting one coyote scream back for each of mine. Was that a system? Or had one taken him elsewhere? All I wanted was some kind of sign, a sound, some acknowledgement that he was in there, possibly still alive.

It was pup season, so that was an idea, delivered elsewhere to a den for breakfast. But where? I had found their boneyard later on when it was quiet in there. But no sign of Gustavo. I’ve seen a lot of dead things. I’ve seen a coyote race from an impossible distance and pluck a chicken from just in front of my nose. I’ve seen and heard a group of coyotes in a frenzy over a carcass they had stashed in bushes, raising such a ruckuss I’d gone out and broke up their excitement throwing branches at them.  I’ve seen fresh deer kill from a mountain lion, neatly slit through it’s stomach, left adjacent to a trail for the next meal, much neater than coyote damage, always mangled and torn and shredded, rib cages pulled out from a deer chest and strewn about. A dog Gustavo’s size didn’t have a chance in the grip of a coyote. He’s not a dog with much fight in him. He can squirm pretty good when you need to draw blood or clip his nails, but that’s about it. He has exactly four teeth in his mouth, one of them being a lower canine fang that hangs sideways that’s firmly rooted in there it’s never going to fall out.

Gustavo is the dog who can trot up to the sketchiest dog on the street, wag his tail, and diffuse the situation with his good vibes. Dogs that raise my hair up on my arms when I see their stance, where I reverse direction fast, dogs that I know Otterpop would get into it with, and that Banksy will run from in terror, Gustavo walks up and says hi. And almost always they offer a hi back. He has a quiet, magic spirit. The only time he’s cranky with another dog is when they push a paw down on his back. That’s it. He starts to scream. Inappropriate touching, he calls out, he isn’t shy. I would have thought a coyote’s mouth wrapped around him would send blood curdling screams to the tops of the highest trees. And while he’s fast, he’s nowhere near as fast as a coyote. Had been ahead of them into the thicket, he wouldn't have stayed ahead long.

I had one hundred percent certainty that he was DOA. We were finally being taxed for our usage of their forest after all these years. Nothing is free. Land’s expensive, and land use comes with a lot of complication. All these years I thought we were sharing, and now we were paying. He was taken as a sacrifice and a toll. It was pretty cut and dry.

But I didn’t stop searching. I stayed home part of the next day to wait for a condolence alcohol delivery from a friend. That’s the thing now, you send a refrigerator full of beer when someone loses a loved one. Flowers are dumb, but plentiful beer is common sense. Another friend stopped by, even though I didn’t want company. She once had a little dog run after a coyote, maybe get plucked up, but make it back with a tear in it’s harness. She also reminded me of the impossible situation when one of her big dogs clawed it’s way out the window of their camper shell on their truck, jumped out of the truck onto the freeway at 70mph, and waited for them, uninjured, in the freeway median. They had arrived home, late at night, one dog short. Not really knowing exactly what to do, they drove back to where they had started, and drove slow down the freeway in the dead of night. And finally spotted her, in the center divider, curled into a ball and waiting for them, right at the Lark exit off Highway 17. It was a very impossible story, one for the record book. Nobody ever thought a dog would survive jumping out of a truck at that speed on a busy freeway and live. Let alone wait there to get picked up. And be found. But it happened. She had been a miracle dog, that one.

So back out I went. Pretty half hearted, but back into the thicket, back through all the trails. We even walked down to the overlook over the creek, where we sometimes either take the really steep trail down, or walk all the way up the hill to take the easier trail to the little waterfall. It’s a project to get down to the creek up there, but Banksy frequently pulls us down there on a walk. I usually have to carry Otterpop now, it’s getting way too steep for her to even get down there the easy way.

I have another nice place to sit and be quiet in those woods. It’s a grove not too far in. Sometimes in the evening, after work, we go for a walk but after a long day, we only walk up the hill and down the fire road and then take a carefully hidden trail into this grove. There’s a good sitting log there, and Gustavo usually sits on it with me while the other dogs putter around and find sticks. Pausing to be quiet on a walk is something me and Gustavo most like, where as Banksy and Otterpop use their time more effectively, finding sticks to poke me with to throw. Which I don’t. Because quiet time. Those two aren’t much for quiet time, not when they’re on a walk. Gustavo’s more like me. He likes to keep moving until it’s time to not move. There’s always room for both.

That grove was about 30’ from where they took him into the thicket.

Anyways, he wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere, we walked til dark on all our trails, back to the thicket, back everywhere, and there was no collar, no carcass, nothing. He had vanished. There was no moment I said goodbye. Nothing that day was out of the ordinary, gave me no reason to think I'd never see my dog again. We had got up and gotten in the car and headed out for a walk, just like every single day, except that day turned out to be the last day I’d ever see him again.

Gustavo’s somehow different than the other dogs. I love my dogs a lot. I am a freak of how much I love my dogs. I know I don’t love my horses the same way I love my dogs. And while I think I love all the dogs all the same, it’s not the same. Gustavo has this thing about him that makes him a little more special. And whatever that thing is about him, made it that much worse that he’d died. And not just for me, it was the same for Gary, and as word started to spread, apparently the same for lots of our friends. That little dog had a legion of friends.

This was more than sadness, more a sick despair that sets in with a heart break that also mingles with shock. Where the shock starts to wear off you’re stuck with new reality that sucks your breath away at how unrelentlessly bad it feels. To walk around the block was sad, to walk to the park was sad, his empty spot on the couch was sad. I couldn’t bear to look at his dog crate in my car and had to pull it out so I could drive.

And, for a bonus, I now had full blown poison oak. My whole head puffed up, my eye swelled shut, my left arm and neck was covered in oozing red blisters. I was marked, I was now somebody else completely. Life had to go on, I still had to go to work, and on Tuesday morning, two days after he vanished, I hauled myself and my embarrassingly weak skin up to work, telling everyone not to speak to me. We all have dogs, all us horse people. We all know what it is to lose a dog. My horse shoer expressed his condolences, and started to tell me some story about a friend’s dog and a coyote. I definitely lost it, then and there, holding the pony who needed aluminum bar shoes. Everybody clammed up, and I went about the day. It was possible to sit on the fence and call out to the ladies, more right rein, slow down, speed up, bend a little more to the inside. This was my new life.

We had put out flyers, taped to posts and things in the woods, for just in case. Missing, they read, with a photo and my phone number. Missing. What else would they say? Dead? He wasn’t lost, that forest was same as a back yard for him. He knew every square inch, he’d walked in there his whole life. It’s not that big. If he had wanted out, he’d have found his way. So just missing. People keep an eye out, maybe we get some closure. I had hoped mostly for his collar, sometimes we find those in sad places, a little collar from a cat or dog, a spot of color in some brush. I’d always carry them to the road, leave them on a post. Somebody might spot it, and know how their story ended.

My phone doesn’t work well in the mountains. I can get texts at my barn, but to talk on the phone requires standing in exactly the right spot and not moving a muscle. Voice mails are frequently eaten by the mountain, and only a complicated process of turning the phone on and off near the cel booster on the roof will possibly retrieve them, but not always. Everybody knows, don’t call me. I like this better anyways, with most people, I hate talking on the phone. I get a lot of bogus calls, too. Somebody selling something, somebody wants to come ride a horse, a lot of time wasted trying to talk on the phone at work. So usually it just sits in my trunk and I look for texts when I walk by.

Sometime that morning, I could see a local call had come in. That perked my interest, just enough. Maybe someone found something, so I took my phone to the magic spot to try to extricate the call. I don’t know if it’s the redwoods, or the mountain itself, but prying a voice mail from my iphone when it doesn’t want to give it to me is an arduous process. Turn the phone off, wait a bit, turn it on. Repeat. Maybe you can hear what it’s saying, or maybe you can’t. I’m not always a patient person, certainly not with the technology. I know, it has to talk to space. Steve Jobs figured out how to do it and paid the Chinese slave children his version of a living wage so that it can. Space is far, even though my phone is near, give it another minute, maybe it will give it up. So I waited, stupid phone, and kept trying to pry out the call.

I could only get a bit of it, a garbled voice from a nearby mountain school, the one on the edge of the woods. Something about the school, and a dog. We have Gustavo.

That’s all I needed. We have Gustavo. I didn’t hear anything about dead, that would be a body, this was Gustavo. I ran up to my car, screamed at a customer that Somebody has My Dog. Screamed down our 5mph lane raising dust as fast as I could. I had a new girl coming to ride in half an hour and a horse shoer that needed paying and I was screaming out of work as fast as I could go.

Somebody at the school had Gustavo.

There’s a windy old grade that goes almost to the school, cuts across the mountain the inefficient way. Somebody put those roads in long ago for hauling out lumber, you wouldn’t use them unless you lived on them, they wind around the contours and wind up and down with blind curves the size of pin curls. Always blocked in the winter by mud and trees, they drop down into dark and come back up in sun and down into the dark again. You don’t see the houses on them, addresses marked by signs nailed to trees and narrow bridges somebody’s dad made to get the truck across the creek. I flew across the grade, driving as fast as I could. Got to the straight part and floored it. Screamed down the main road, past the houses by the gulch, past where sometimes the mountain CHP guy sits to get people who floor it on the straight part, flying into the school car park. All the kids out on the field, it’s a private school, looks like a summer camp. And it sits on the far edge of the gulch across the creek.

Me and my swollen shut eye, no shower for days, still wearing that torn up jacket, in my dirty boots, thinking for a minute, maybe don’t look so crazy, school shooters and all. Trying to look calm, finding a grownup, asking is there an office?

A wary blonde lady takes one look at me, then realizes, “Oh, are you the one looking for the dog?”

“YES!” I scream or whisper, I’m not sure what kind of sound I can make anymore. “Yes! My dog! I’m here for the dog!”

She takes me in the little office, and I burst in to a group of surprised looking grownups, wild eyed feral school shooter?

“My Dog!” I think I’m gasping for air now. A lady comes over and takes my arm, she looks like a nice lady who would work at a private mountain school for kids. She has a nice smile.

All the grownups come over and the nice man says, “He’s in pretty bad shape, the 8th graders found him,” as he leads me to a little body in another room, under a blanket, in the corner next to a file cabinet. “We tried to give him some water, I’m so glad you got my message.”

I run in and grab him up, he feels alive but barely so. He feels tiny and light and limp and hardly breathing. His eyes are vacant and gray. He’s sticky. But alive.

I feel wounds as soon as he’s in my arms, I can feel part of his side seems to be the wrong shape. I am thanking, and exiting, thanking the man and thanking the lady and backing out of the office to get him in my car. They are all beaming and calm, do they even know this miracle they’ve induced? They’re talking to me but I don’t know what they’re saying. I only know I have my dog.

I put a blanket on the seat, and lay him next to me. I have to go screaming back across the mountain, because you never not pay the horse shoer. And there was a new girl, coming up to ride. I’m responsible and diligent, and cart my maybe dying dog back across the grade and scream back in and tell everyone my dog’s alive but I got to get him to the vet. Everybody says, “GO! Get out of here! Just GO!”

Back down the mountain I go, back onto the highway. He is laying there and breathing, not the right kind of breathing, he’s never looked up at me. He’s almost not here. I can feel his right side is swollen, I can feel puncture wounds through his fur. Somehow he has survived something, this unexpected tragedy in the woods, I’m not sure how. I tried to call Gary, the phone talks equally poorly through space on the highway as it does at his work, nestled up against the base of the same mountain.

“I have Gustavo!”


“I have Gustavo!”


He is screaming, he wants me to bring him to work. I am trying to explain, while space is crackling our voices, he has to go to the vet. He’s in bad shape, I’m not sure if he is going to live and I am taking him to the vet. One of our vets is just down the road, I’ll see if she can take him.

I carry him in, her husband is in the office. She’s in surgery, her husband sees Gustavo and says get him to Pacific. Just go, go now. I tell him that Gary may soon be in after me, tell him where I’ve gone. Pacific is the emergency and specialty practice, across town. Just a month or so back I went screaming in there with unconscious Banksy in my arms. Not my first rodeo. Back we go in the car, into the traffic, into town and across it, getting to Pacific. This is something I know how to do, drive a dying dog to the vet. Last time I did it, my dog lived just fine. They fixed her in the hospital, made her good as new. They could fix Gustavo.

I keep my hand on him, so maybe he knows he’s ok, that I found him, that it’s me. Well, that the 8th graders found him, then the smiling grownups from the school, but then me. There was too much traffic, it’s so hard to move across our county these days, I hate to have to go into the civilization, to the strip malls and the stop lights, but this is what we do.

I ran him into the hospital, same as I did with Banksy. This time maybe I am walking, he has to be carried carefully, he feels pretty broken. My vet’s husband had thought to call them for me, they were ready and waiting. A nurse came out and got him, transferred him carefully from my arms.

“What happened to him?”

“He got took by coyotes two days ago. Just got found this morning, the 8th graders found him laying under a deck.”

“Coyotes? Two days ago?”

I nod, and she takes him to the back. I go and sit down, and start up my phone. Here in the strip malls, the phone works good. The hospital’s in the old Sizzler building, where they had the all you can eat salad bar and cheap baked potatoes. Now Whole Foods is just down the row, past the dollar store and the bank that gets robbed on a regular basis. Across the street from the mall where you can take kids to go visit Santa surrounded by giant plastic dolphins, by the Trader Joe’s parking lot where everybody tries to hit your car.

Almost as soon as I sit down, one of my vet friends comes out. She’s not an emergency vet, she’s a specialty. Mostly oncology, a doctor for really sick dogs. She’s really smart. She looks surprised. She had already heard he was dead. Everybody had. Everybody loved Gustavo, and everybody already thought he was dead.

“Laura? They just brought a dog in the back and it looked just like him and they said it was Gustavo?”

“The 8th graders found him at the Waldorf School. Just now. He got took by coyotes on Sunday and they found him this morning.”

She goes back in. She comes back out. She says they will fix him.

The emergency doctor talks to me in a room, Gustavo's in the ICU. I told him what happened, about how he got took and we looked for him but we thought he was dead, about the coyotes and the manzanita and about the 8th graders, and he looks at me like I’m crazy, and then he starts to cry. I’ve never seen a vet start crying.

“You can save him, right?”

He's concerned, he doesn’t like to promise things. A little dog shouldn’t have lived through this. But he thinks that they can save him, there's a lot of damage, they need to make sure his insides are ok and no holes inside internal organs, the outsides are all punctures, there are broken ribs, he has teeth holes everywhere, even inside his ears. Something's wrong with his eyes. But he thinks that nothing he can see so far is life threatening, he’s in bad shape but he thinks he can fix him, he'll know more in a few hours.

I go back out to wait, sit in the waiting room and scratch my oozing skin. My vet friend comes out again, in her long white coat. She says you better go on facebook right now because a lot of people love Gooey and a lot of people think he’s dead.

So I do. I go on facebook, and I type in:

Hi Facebook friends. Thank you for all the kind words. I have a legitimate miracle occurring right now. I am at the emergency vet with Gustavo. He somehow managed to survive being taken by coyotes in the woods. He is in bad shape but we are confident he will make it. Please think good thoughts for him as he needs them, but the crazy amazing miracle, a true legitimate genuine miracle, is that Gustavo is alive.

to be continued in Part Three

Part Three: I do not hate coyotes.


Terry A said...

Tears rolling down my face as I read this. For poor Gooey, such a sweet, strong dog, full of heart. But also tears for you, Laura, who loves your dogs as much as I do, who has a sense of humor that makes me laugh, who writes so honestly that all of us who have never met Gooey love him because you have made him real and dear to us, who obviously is a lover of the world and all it holds, who makes art that is beautiful and funny and true and sad. Because it was hard enough to go thru Banksy's most recent scare but to have this happen on top of it, well, so very, very unfair. But those recovery pix where you just have joy shining from every pore, those make me cry the hardest. Because sometimes miracles do come true and no one deserved it more than you.

Anonymous said...

You've done it again. I am not sure how you can write zit when I can barely read it. I'll stay tuned.

maryclover said...

I'm sure I haven't cried half (a quarter an eighth) as much as you over Gooey, but here I am crying again. Miracles really do happen. xoxo

Elf said...

What everyone else said--crying all over again at Gustavo gone missing, crying all over again that he's found. I still can only imagine how it all was for you. And thanks again for telling the story, and oh I'm sorry to hear about the poison oak. I've never gotten poison oak, ivy, or sumac, but I know how these things can go, because my dad who was out in the hills most of his adult life was a person who never got it, either, until one winter when clearing a trail of a tree and a bunch of crap that came down in a storm, and then, wow, he had it bad. He was maybe in his 60s? Dang poison oak, double-dang coyotes. I think you have to be pretty much 100% native American to not get poison oak, and probably really not even then. I don't think there's any ancestry that protects you from coyotes, but maybe Gustavo has a wee bit of that ancestry, that little miracle guy.

Unknown said...

Yep, what everyone else said. I have no words. I tried! But mine don't even come anywhere close. Just don't compare to yours and ability to describe emotion, make us feel everything. What an amazing story and the best ending ever. Best blog ever, best story, best ending ever.

Brittany said...

Do not read this while you’re trying to quietly sit on a machine at the gym and not be noticed. Even knowing how t turns out, tears. Much love to you and Gustavo.