Hershey liked going to the river. When we got to the top of the berm the first time she went with her buddy Rex, she stood stock still and stared. It was probably the most water she’d seen in her life to that point (subsequent trips to the ocean would change that) and she seemed boggled that such a glittering, meandering thing could exist. An unhooking of leashes, and a race down the hill later and she was chest deep in it, romping with Rex.
I learned a few things about her that day. One was, despite whatever Labrador heritage she might possess, she did not inherit a love of swimming. She preferred to go no more than chest deep, keeping her feet solidly on the river bottom, and nearly panicked when she accidentally found a drop off that forced her to paddle for a few strokes until she found her footing again.
I also found out she liked to steal my hat and use it as a bath toy.
On subsequent trips I learned some other things about her:
–She was afraid of things she didn’t need to fear (like a Harry Potter wand) but was completely comfortable getting close to things she should avoid (like the back end of a horse).
–She was actually more interested in crashing through the brush along the banks of the river than playing in the water.
–She had a nearly cast iron stomach.
The reason for the second and the fact of the third were discovered in short order of each other. She had been crashing through the brush when she emerged triumphant, with something in her mouth, something furry and lifeless.
She had not killed the creature; it had been dead a long time before she found it. From its recognizable state I would guess that an accident had befallen it, and it had remained unnoticed in the brush. With time, weather, and microbes it had withered to a shell of its former self. It was a husk, a rabbit husk. (You were wondering what that was about, weren’t you?)
In Hershey’s brief time with me (at that point somewhere slightly north of a year) we had worked on the command “Leave it!” It had worked well in several instances when she’d found awful things to put in her mouth. The abandoned hamburger was dropped. The desiccated snake was left by the side of the trail. The fledgling mourning dove was released to fly off and find a good therapist. The difference between those instances and this was during all the others she’d been on leash. This time she could get away from me, and she promptly did.
Upon hearing “leave it!” she took off and went to the most hysterically defiant spot she could find. She dashed out into a little side stream of the river, stood in the middle of it, and ate the rabbit husk in front of me. It was down her gullet, sucked up like a furry lasagna noodle, before I could even think about getting my shoes off to wade in after her. As far as I could tell she suffered no ill effects from it. It was the highlight of her day, and I’ll always remember it.
We gradually stopped going down to the river. If it wasn’t a romp in a bog (that one did make her sick), or a rabbit husk in the river, it was a dead crow behind barbed wire. In fact, she had so many encounters (some costly, some not) with “The Wire That Fenced The West,” that if she were a child at summer camp her ‘Indian name’ would probably be “Dances with Tetanus.”
The final straw for me was the mother coyote who chased Hershey and her friends Pearl and G.G.away from her denning area. So now the coyotes are free to enjoying an easier afternoon, the barbed wire is free to snare another unsuspecting animal, and the rabbit husks are left to dry in peace.
Honestly, I kind of miss it.