My hiking partner and I have differing views on what constitutes a good healthy hiking pace. For her it’s stopping every three seconds to sniff some broken stem of wild buckwheat for a half-hour; urinating on every other pile of coyote scat encountered; and watching quail—very, very intently.
Did I fail to mention she’s a dog?
"This is not my idea of an aerobic walk," I tell her. "You must MOVE for it to be exercise."
"In case you hadn’t noticed," she retorts, "I ain’t the flabster in this duo, pal." Unlike most dogs who "speak" only on command, this critter gabs at will.
Fair enough. I haven’t run since college but can jog a few paces without dropping dead. So we engage in a bit of a clumsy run—she invariably darts, twirls, veers and otherwise does stuff that wraps me up in her leash like some rodeo calf.
On one veer-dart-twirl she snags the edge of one front paw on something sharp. Blood spurts like a scene in a gory movie. Droplets fly. Pools of blood form. It’s getting dark, there’s no moon, it’s three miles or more back to my truck and we’re in the hind end of some remote canyon sub-letted to us for day use only by coyote and mountain lion landlords.
I try one of those Wet Naps you get with a KFC boxed dinner. Next, a Band-Aid barely big enough to cover a baby’s pinky. It’s not looking good. Blood is oozing, the dog’s looking over her shoulder while holding the injured paw aloft.
"Do something," she says.
"Could you quit looking over your shoulder? That’s making me nervous, like there’s something there."
"There is. I just can’t tell what or how big or how hungry."
I rummage through the contents of my backpack. All I find is one squashed Nutri-Grain bar and an extra pair of clean Fruit of the Looms.
"Use that," the dog says urgently. "I’m gonna need a transfusion at this rate."
I ponder this. Here’s a dog known to have a bent for melodrama.
"They’re brand new," I say.
"I haven’t even worn them once."
"We’re talking about true friendship here, right?" the dog asks, appealing to my sentimentality. Still, I hesitate.
"They’re such a pretty pattern, all these dainty blue flowers…."
"Man’s best friend? Are we on the same page yet?"
"Oh all right."
Using my car key I shred the gorgeous new Fruit of the Loomers and bandage the paw. The dog takes two halting steps then furiously chews the thing off. I whistle loud and clear.
"What are you whistling for? I’m right here."
"I’m calling that thing lurking over your shoulder to hurry come eat you, you fool! What are you doing?"
"It was too bulky."
"I’ll have you know those underwear weren’t even on sale!" I pick up the sodden strips and re-do the bandage, streamlined, trim and tidy. The dog sits down and in the last of the light I see her manufacturing her most doleful expression.
"Can you carry me?"
"Oh get out! Talk about flabsters! You’re 50 pounds at least. Carry you? Ha!"
Naturally I attempt the valiant task. We careen together like a pair of besotted waltz partners. Dust devils engulf my heels. I gasp and plunge three steps forward but we’re on a steep incline and I’m losing far more ground than I’m gaining.
"Better put me down before you injure me."
"Injure you? I just pulled six muscles."
Suddenly there’s a great thrashing of brush and the dim silhouette of a mule deer appears in the curve of the road just ahead. This at last is my ticket out of hurt-hound-hell. I get an extra tight purchase on her leash. She scents and sees the deer—it scents and sees us and vanishes none too subtly. The dog launches after it, baying like the part-hound she is.
Courtesy of the chase we’re back at my truck in about 90 breathless seconds where she, of course, cannot climb on to the seat due to the grievous injury.
"How’s that paw?"
"Ow, it really hurts. I think I need to see the emergency vet."
"Ha! I think you need to see your acting coach for some brush up lessons, and you also need to see some antiseptic spray, a bandage cut out of an old sock, and no deer for about a week."
In the truck’s dome light I view what’s left of the tattered Fruit of the Loomers. The dog is holding her paw upraised, chewing on the unraveling dusty shreds with their pathetic dainty blue flowers.
"Thanks for the sacrifice of your unmentionables," she says, "I mean it." Her sincerity shames me into anointing the paw with the best my medicine cabinet has to offer, creating a new bandage worthy of Flo Nightingale, and cooking up some chicken to share with the brave patient.
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