RESCUE ME: A VALENTINE TO OUR CANINE COMPANIONS
In my recently published novel, THE TALE OF RESCUE, a cattle dog saves a family stranded in a blizzard. While “vacationing” in Ohio, many states away from their home in Florida, a mother, father, and 10-year-old boy are lost in waist-deep snow, in a squall—a white-out—that turns to freezing rain. They have no provisions, no clue as to which direction their cabin or any shelter might be, and no strategy to survive the night in such extreme weather.
But a cattle dog chances to hear a whistle piercing the wind’s howls. She bolts from her farm and the herd of cattle she works and discovers the family. Her strategy to bring these lost souls to safety is a stunning tale of survival.
Many have asked the question: Did this dog act heroically or “merely” instinctually? The answer likely depends on your own sense of what dogs are capable of doing or, maybe, being.
For me, her surprising solution to the family’s predicament is in keeping with what I feel dogs are capable of providing their human companions. They don’t just give “unconditional love.” They aren’t just a part of the household: an alarm system, a warm blanket, a portable exercise machine. They’re not just a “member of the pack” that’s decaled in stick figures on the minivan’s rear window.
No, dogs rescue us, their human companions, from our own lives…every single day. They save us from our self-absorption and our fretting. They ward off the sense of being alone—even when “alone” means feeling apart or different EVEN among loved ones or in a crowd. It’s my belief that dogs, by being dogs, by determinedly expressing their animal nature—despite or even in harmony with our training—provide a true north, a grounding to the natural world that we humans, animals that we are, often forget.
Since I adopted my cattle dog, Chant, she has rescued my each and every day. She’s provided the subject matter for poems, the novel that I’d mentioned, and a host of vignettes that I write from her perspective in a humorous, humbling attempt to see my environment from my dog’s vantage. What follows is one example. It’s a Valentine to our canine companions. It’s Chant’s Valentine to moles.
(Yes, during these monologues, Chant refers to me as “Home.” The way I’ve come to see things, we—not our houses or yards—are our dog’s homes, no matter where we happen to be. )
A CATTLE DOG’S VALENTINE TO MOLES
On the second of our two daily excursions, Home and I are traipsing though the meadows that still hold stretches of snow. The forest is mostly soaked with flattened leaves of various poop-colored browns and small mounds of snow. (Come to think of it, it’s just the opposite of how it’s been these last couple of weeks: big expanses of white; little mounds of poo.) Anyway, we’re on this one trail, and I hear the moles. I also hear the other dogs on the property racing over, so I act fast. I wait just another moment until the rustling gets just a bit louder. My mouth is posed right above the breaking ground. And then—got it! One bite…done! Delivered. Stunned. Shocked. Whatever. A mole. I can’t tell you how happy this made me.
Meanwhile, Home is doling out treats to the other dogs, one of whom catches a whiff of my prize and moves in to steal it. I don’t imagine anyone would think I am unjustified in assuming a protective stance and snapping. (Just a warning-snap in the air.)
Finally, Home looks over. I’m sitting six feet away and, smack in the middle of the ground between us, lies my mole. No, this isn’t a little guy. It’s exceptionally plump…a pounder (and a quarter, maybe). All wet-gray, it sports a tiny raspberry for a nose and surprisingly huge mitts that are as pink as my tongue, which happens to be hanging out as I beam up at Home. “See! I told you! Here! I got this for you, and I’m not even a terrier! NOW how much do you love your cattle dog?”
And what does Home do? Sure, he takes a few pictures of me and my mole. (I’m beginning to think he works for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.) Then he snatches a nearby branch, snaps it in two, and chopsticks up the mole. Then he makes a beeline to nothing short of a mountain of tree limbs and brush left behind after the neighbor’s recent timbering. Now, I bet you a shopping cart full of rawhide chews that you can’t imagine what happened next. Home leans in and he lobs the mole into the center of that impenetrable morass. Done. Gone. Not even a terrier could retrieve the mole now.
So this is Home’s idea of thanks? If he didn’t want the mole, couldn’t he have stewed it for me? Or made me some mole-jerky treats? (Why do I even pose it as a question? To be polite, I suppose. I am NOT wrong.)
Such betrayal. Such disappointment. I know I have said it before: Home is lacking in many areas, but he has other qualities to offset them. At moments such as this, I have a hard time remembering what those might be.
MOLE CATCHING BASICS, by Chant
Right now, the season is perfect. If you’re out tapping your maple trees or watching for the first cows to calve, take along a cattle dog to work the mole fields.
Conditions are ideal: A mild winter morning with fresh snow means mole action. They want to stretch their legs, scoot topside and scout for grubs in the thawed soil. And the denser snow makes their tunnel-scratching movements squeak a bit. It’s a faint crunch ‘n’ crackle just like the snow under your boots/my paws.
Guy from the county extension service told Home that most folks around here have three, maybe four, moles per acre. Home’s got 100 acres. Easy math: That’s 300 or 400 moles. And each one can dig 100 feet of tunnels in a single day. Don’t even bother multiplying! You know that’s a lot of ground for one cattle dog to cover.
So the basic hunting technique involves five steps. Here’s a handy acronym: LFCPDB.
1. L is for Listen. You don’t need me to explain that. Stop in your tracks. Imagine you have the satellite-dish ears of a cattle dog. Tune into the mole channel.
2. F is for Freeze. You do know the “Stay!” command, right? So I don’t have to explain “Freeze." Hear a little mole-in-motion? Don’t move anything but your eyes until your target comes closer to the surface.
3. C is for Cock. I probably need to explain this. Okay, so you need a little extra oomph to catapult forward. Just jumping doesn’t cut it. So this motion is the briefest, slightest backward tilt. Sometimes I watch Home watching TV. When he starts to doze off, his eyes close, his head nods slowly backwards—and then, all at once, he jerks forward, eyes peeled open. THAT! That’s the motion you want: Pull back your neck and shoulders like you’re cocking the hammer of a gun. That extra force drives your…
4. Pounce. P is for Pounce like a jaguar. This is your coup de grâce! This is your chance to shout “touché!” (assuming you know French). Your goal: Land both paws and your muzzle at the same instant in the same spot. Home says, just tell your readers you’re like those Olympic divers who hit the pool so smoothly they hardly make a splash. Paws extended and touching. Mouth, only slightly opened, exposing teeth. (There’s a difference between a ballistic bound and a face plant.) Land with all the power your springing hind legs—I guess that would just be your ONLY legs—can offer, and strike like a cobra. (Yes, I can imagine that this action may not come as naturally to you as it does to a cattle dog. Maybe practice will help.)
5. D is for Dig because moles scurry. Even if you hit one dead on, it dives. It’s got a maze of options in which to turn. So go at the dirt, RIGHT-LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT like you’re pummeling an opponent you’ve knocked to the ground. Don’t jab. Imagine an uppercut but in the opposite direction, since you’re digging down. It’s an downer-cut, I guess.
6. B is for? Now I can't remember. It seemed important at the time. Boast? Beam? Bite—it might be Bite.
That’s it. Just remember LFCPDB. Easy. LFC…PDB—it even rhymes. Okay? Go for it! Moles a’wasting.
Michael J. Rosen is a very prolific author who has been involved in the writing and editing of over 100 books. Michael’s work ranges from picture, poetry and chapter books for children to adult poetry and novels. Michael has edited several anthologies.
Michael J. Rosen has received numerous awards from a variety of sources. Among these are the National Jewish Book Award for Elijah's Angel: A Story for Chanukah and Christmas, the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance Once Upon a World Book Award for A School for Pompey Walker, the Juvenile Literature Ohioana Library Award for The Heart Is Big Enough, and the Ohioana Library Career Citation in children's literature. He has accepted grants from the Jefferson Center for Learning and the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additionally, he has been named a fellow to the Ohio Arts Council (in poetry) and the National Endowment for the Arts, and an Ingram Merrill fellow in poetry.