Miley is approaching the big 7 in a couple of days,
Just watching her run through woods today, it’s obvious that she is fitter now than she was last winter. A senior diet and a tougher exercise regime have toned those muscles.
She lacks an interest or aptitude for anything her kind were originally bred for. Indeed, her main interest is in treeing squirrels and then following them through the woods as they jump from tree to tree. There aren’t many dogs that do this. Most dogs will slap their front paws up on the tree and yap, but she will pay attention to where the squirrel is.
Not where it’s been.
Her life has been that of a forest dog. Without exaggerated conformation, she has spent her life as a ridge-runner and mud-hole wallower.
She thinks retrieving is what those OCD retrievers do and sees no point is searching for grouse. Can’t these other dogs see how amazing squirrels are?
There is a value to a dog like this. Her knowledge of the wild means that she can open up a world to me. She smells the deer before I see them. She knows the rabbit is hidden in that pipe.
She has an excellence in the wild that urban dogs simply lack. They are never given that opportunity to learn about the natural world.
I am reminded of a Dalmatian that was raised by relatives. The dog was kept behind an invisible fence until it became obvious that such an energetic dog had no place in the suburbs.
He got sent to my grandpa, and he had no clue on how to live where there are things like horses and copperheads. I laughed so hard when I read that Dalmatians have an instinctive love of horses. Nothing brought terror to that poor city dog when he was approached by a horse. And on his first walk in freedom, he came bursting out of the bush with a copperhead in his mouth. Luckily, he wasn’t bitten.
But in the brush, he was totally lost.
It just wasn’t his world.
Miley’s education in the woods began the day she laid eyes on an oddly diurnal gray fox. She had been here only about two weeks when we were out for a trip into the woods.
As we climb up a sandy bank, a cottontail rabbit bolted from the edge of the road. It ran away from my approach but then suddenly turned and came running toward me.
I couldn’t figure out why a rabbit would be running towards me until I looked up ahead of me to see what had caused the rabbit to chance its course.
My eyes caught sight of a grayish form running down the path toward me.
It was bounding down towards me the fluid motion of a cat, but then it stopped its advance. I finally realized that the form running down the trail at me was a gray fox. It stopped to sniff the air and see if I were any threat, and at about that time Miley came up from behind me.
Three months old and totally in awe with the world around me, the yellow pup came to an abrupt stop as she neared my position.
Before her was a dog, but it was unlike any she had ever seen or smelled before.
And somehow I doubt that the urocyon had ever seen a golden retriever pup before either.
The two creatures sniffed the air, and then the fox remembered that a human being was awfully close.
And it bolted into a thicket of young white pine.
Over the past seven years, Miley’s life has been distillation of experiences like this. She knows the wild beasts well. Last fall, I brought in a deer grunt call, and I blew it only twice before Miley got excited. She knew that sound! White-tails!
How many dogs never get to know these things? How many of them spend their lives confined to backyards in the suburbs, where the main past-time is barking at pedestrians who pass near their compounds?
Miley has had almost seven years of a life that so few of her kind ever get to know.
It’s a good life.
It’s without prestige or pretense.
It is simply a dog living with grass under her paws and all sorts of interesting things to smell.
These things have all made her.
And made her whole.