“There is no faith which has never yet been broken, except that of a truly faithful dog.” — Konrad Lorenz
“That dog wouldn’t let me on the porch!” This came from my co-worker Pete, who had tried to set foot on my cabin’s porch while I was at work. “I wanted to spray that hornet’s nest above the front door, but I couldn’t get to it.”
It was my third summer working at an Idaho state park as an interpreter, and my second summer working with Pete, a member of the maintenance crew. “Sorry, Pete,” I replied. “I’ll keep her indoors for you tomorrow.”
According to Pete, Ellie, my Heeler mix, had stood at the top of the porch steps with her teeth bared, steadily growling at him. She hadn’t flinched. Fortunately, he had not persisted in approaching and had backed away.
Ellie had never bitten anyone (well, outside of a herding nip or two). However, I knew that if she’d taken a stand like that, she meant business. Ellie did not bluff; she gave no empty threats. Over the years, she’d been in a few scraps with other dogs. The size of the dog didn’t seem to matter; Ellie could hold her own with much bigger opponents. (Typically, she had been the one attacked and on the defense.) She was fearless in confrontations. Also, when it came to protecting me or my property, she took the job very seriously.
When Pete recounted the porch incident, a red flag warning went off in my head. Throughout the summer of 2002, a number of people had visited my cabin while I was away at work, all without any trouble from Ellie. I thought this over briefly and then dismissed the unpleasant encounter on the porch as a misunderstanding. After all, I’d worked with Pete for nearly two seasons by this time. I didn’t see a problem with him.
Ellie came into my life when I needed her. My dog, Sally, had passed a few months prior, and as it turned out, I was ready for another dog in my life. Ellie was abandoned near my home. I found her at a nearby community center sitting on a porch; she was waiting for her owner to come back for her. I coaxed her to my house with food. She had no collar. No one was looking for her.
It took a while for Ellie to warm up to me. She had to grieve for her former owner, but when that was over, she was all mine. She was a one-person dog and I was her girl and her “charge.” She took it upon herself, as her job, to take care of me, to protect me.
A few days later, Ellie was waiting in the car for me near the park’s headquarters. As I came back to the car, Pete came by with a few guys from the maintenance crew. He tapped on the car window nearest Ellie and said, “There is that dog that doesn’t like me.” Ellie pressed her snout up to the window, curled her upper lip, and revealed her long canine teeth. Her growl was low and menacing. She was ready to strike.
As I looked on, I was thankful for the glass between them. Seeing Ellie’s strong reaction to this person was unsettling. My mind flashed to the porch encounter at my cabin. A cabin located in a remote part of the park, isolated.
Not long after the porch and car confrontations, Pete was caught stealing campers’ cash payments and was promptly fired. When I heard this I began looking at my dog differently.
I was in awe of Ellie’s instincts. Apparently, she had smelled the rat in Pete. I told a friend about Ellie’s behavior toward my former co-worker and she replied that dogs could sniff out people with bad intentions.
After the porch square off, I never seconded-guessed Ellie’s warnings about people again. Most of the time, when it came to others, she was fairly indifferent. Being a one-person dog type, she didn’t really seem to care much about other humans one way or the other. The few times that she got her hackles up after targeting Pete as not to be trusted, I paid attention. While I tended to give people the benefit of the doubt, Ellie, on the other hand, was able to sense things about people, things not immediately apparent to me.
One time, I took Ellie on a trail where dogs were allowed off-leash. She was ahead of me and out of sight when I heard her barking. I could tell by the sound of her bark that she’d met up with someone or something she did not like. Her bark was like an alarm alerting me of a threat.
I ran to catch up and found her circling a man who had stopped in this tracks and stood frozen on the trail. Despite my repeated command to “come,” Ellie continued to bark and circle. When I got her by the collar, I apologized to Ellie’s captive. In order to grab my dog, I had come in fairly close to the man. He didn’t look me in the eye and seemed apologetic himself. I cannot remember what he said exactly, but I do remember smelling alcohol.
I put Ellie on her leash and we went our separate ways. I’m not sure what it was about this man that set off Ellie, but I didn’t doubt her instincts. Also, I knew that anyone or thing that Ellie considered a threat to me would have a difficult time getting past her.
From the summer of the porch incident on, my trust in Ellie to watch out for me was a given. Her devotion was fierce, and I had no doubt that she would lay down her life for me. I never felt as safe as when she was by my side, up the trail, or on the porch. She was my guardian angel with canine teeth.
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About the author: Chris is a pet enthusiast and the creator of Dog About Town NW, a regional blog that celebrates dog ownership in the great Northwest where outdoor adventures with one’s canine companions is typically more than a walk in the park.