|THE DOG WHO SPOKE WITH GODS - by Diane Jessup|
three days Hoffman returned, his four students strung out behind him on
the trail, their large packs and themselves draped with plastic ponchos.
It was typical Olympic Peninsula weather,
first order of business after Tag, Seth, Susan and Devon had set up their
own tents and stowed the sensitive research equipment away from the weather,
was to assemble and set the
camp established, firewood collected, the trap assembled and set, now
began for Viktor Hoffman one of the greatest pleasures of field work.
Sitting with his still tender ankle propped up
The dog appeared late, about ten o'clock. The flashing of his reflective eyes was first noticed by Tag, Hoffman's teaching assistant and most promising student. He was an intense, dominant young man disliked by the other students for his monopolizing and overprotective attitude toward the professor. As always, he was seated close beside the older man, and he reached out now, touching his arm. He nodded in the direction of the animal.
"Oh yes," Hoffman said quietly. "There he is."
more sense than to speak out loud in the presence of the wary animal,
Susan couldn't help but remark, low, "Wow, it is a pit bull,"
and Hoffman nodded. It was not a breed any of them
and Devon had set the trap seventy-five feet from the camp, baited with
a handful of raw hamburger. The trap was a long and narrow wire cage with
one end propped open. When the dog
Damien neared the strange object with curiosity and none of the usual fearfulness of a wild animal. He approached from behind, coming up to the back of the trap. He sniffed the hamburger and then hungrily pawed at the wire. With a sharp metallic snap the sensitive hook holding the door in place was jarred loose, and the door slammed shut. Obviously hungry, Damien returned to the trap and dug at it vigorously until he succeeded in moving the trap several inches and exposing the hamburger, which had fallen through the bottom wire. Having licked up every piece, the bulldog looked questioningly toward the camp before trotting off.
For a moment no one spoke, then Devon said, "At least he's not afraid of the thing."
"No, he's not," Hoffman laughed. "Go tie a plastic sack over the back, so he won't be able to see the bait from behind. Let's try again."
Devon secured a black plastic sack to the back of the cage, then reloaded and reset the trap. The plastic worked, and the dog circled the trap looking for the food he could smell. Finding the opening, he entered cautiously. They could see him stretching his short, powerful neck, trying to reach the food without stepping in any farther than necessary. One step, two steps. They saw him glance down, most likely looking at the metal trip plate which stuck up at an angle across the cage bottom. He inched forward, then, by craning his neck, was able to reach over and lick up the meat without stepping forward any farther. When the food was gone he backed out carefully and sat looking at the researchers, as if waiting for further developments.
"Hey Devon, he's not going to leave you a tip if you keep him waiting," Susan joked.
The young man snorted. "He's good, you have to admit, he is good."
Devon wore a peculiar leather hat that lacked only a long pheasant feather stuck in the band to be a ringer for Robin Hood's. He pushed that hat back so far in a resolute gesture that now the others around the campfire wondered how it stayed put. He went out again, this time with Tag's beef jerky, and he secured it tightly to the back of the trap with twist ties.
know what the animal is subsisting on tonight, don't we?" Hoffman
joked with his students when Devon returned to camp. It was only minutes
until Damien reentered the circle of light and
bad this study doesn't require the establishment of feeding stations,
because we've done a pretty fair job of setting one up." Everyone
laughed. Devon was sent out again with more beef
"Room service," he said. "I'll be out of your way in a moment, sir."
Devon backed out and reset the trap, making sure the release mechanism was hair trigger.
watched - Devon holding his breath - as the dog sauntered up to the trap
and stuck his head inside. He scented the meat and stepped in, jerking
back when his foot touched a fir bough.
Without a word, Devon stood up, resettled his hat - this time pushing it so far forward he had to tip his head backward to see - took the last of the beef jerky from Tag's hand and walked out toward the trap.
"Why don't you just hand it to him?" Tag called. "Save yourself some trouble."
As the young man approached the trap the dog stood up, then backed away a few yards.
"We are smarter than you - I want you to know that. It just doesn't look that way right now."
The dog suddenly whirled and disappeared into the dark, and he did not return again that night. The professor concluded that the animal had gone off to digest his considerable meal.
the dog kept away from the trap the following day, the students and their
professor had plenty of opportunity to observe his behaviors. The drizzle
was replaced by brassy, late autumn sunlight that had no effect on the
air's chill, and the day was glorious but sharp. From their makeshift
blind overlooking a fallen log the dog appeared to call home, they watched
Damien enjoy the day. Or, as Tag put it, they "recorded his behaviors".
Damien had been resting curled up against the log's side when a wind gust
blew a dried maple leaf across his line of vision. His head jerked up,
then he sat up. The leaf paused, twirled in place, then moved on rapidly.
"He acts like a kitten," commented Susan, to no one in particular. "Playing with a ball of string."
Without apparent cause, the game ended with the dog breaking into a spectacular running fit. With one last grab at the leaf, the dog erupted into an irregular figure-eight pattern at full gallop. The leaf was forgotten in the wild rush. Lips pulled back in a crazy grin, hind end tucked low in his intensity, the pit bull appeared to be avoiding an unseen companion as it zigzagged about the field. The wild rush stopped as suddenly as it had started, when the dog sat down to scratch behind its ear.
the humans who followed the dog's activities while trying to remain hidden
from his view, the day passed slowly, but for the young dog it was a long,
glorious day spent playing, hunting,
That evening Damien wandered far from the research team, just following his nose. He found the carcass of a deer left by hunters, gorged himself, then slowly made his way back toward his home base. It was in this way he had survived, a young dog alone in the wilderness, against all odds. The fate of dogs lost or dropped in the forest is almost always death by starvation, but the young pit bull, having stumbled upon the lucky remains of poached deer, had held off starvation long enough to learn to find and eat voles. Late in the night, he returned to the area of the human's camp, and once again he approached the trap. He wasn't hungry but he entered the trap anyway, because food was to be taken whenever it could be found.
The trap door slammed down behind him, and he jumped, startled by the noise. He didn't panic - it was not in his pit bull nature - but when he found he was trapped he had a moment of consternation. He turned about and nosed at the trap for several minutes, then, unsure what to do, lay down with a sigh of resignation to await developments.
After a long, cold dawn, the first rays of sun angled through the trees, spilling across the camp site. Damien sat up at the sound of stirrings from within the tents. In time people emerged. When they looked his way they pointed, and called to each other, and he knew their tone to be excited. The human Damien identified as the group's alpha came out of his tent, and after a while, they all started through the underbrush toward him.
felt very strange. Strong, conflicting emotions swept over him as the
humans approached. The Voice, The Ancient Voice of his genetic makeup
and bulldog heritage, reassured him that
the voice of experience spoke differently, louder, and with a shrill insistence.
It reminded him of what he had learned from hard experience; humans were
to be avoided because they caused
The humans surrounded the trap and he stood, facing them. His bulldog heart would not allow him to snarl or growl in fearful aggression. He was frightened, but he would not harm a human to save himself for he was bred down from an ancient breed which had always served man. He pressed into a corner of the trap and awaited their will.
a few moments, the girl assembled a syringe pole and began to try and
inject him in the thigh with tranquilizer. Each time she tried, Damien
would twist about, and the needle on the end of
Frustrated with her efforts, Susan handed the syringe pole to Hoffman. The professor's calm voice did nothing to allay Damien's fears as he watched the man thread the hurtful stick through the bars at him. It came as a surprise to the dog that this man would hurt him, but in Damien's mind was now recorded the fact that Viktor Hoffman could not be trusted. With one swift movement Hoffman drove the syringe into the dog's thigh, injecting the sedative. Damien whirled about and bit at the pole, but the needle had found its mark.
the tranquilizer took effect, the young men gingerly drew the powerful
dog out of the trap. His limp body was placed on a tarp and hoisted up
on a small fishing scale attached to a
"Sixty-two pounds," Susan recorded.
on the ground Damien was measured and examined exhaustively. Seth walked
back to the camp and returned with the electronic tracking collar that
would make it possible to monitor the dog's every movement. The brindle
pit bull's short, powerful neck was barely long enough to accommodate
the width of the collar and large long term battery pack. While Seth secured
"OK, pack up the snack bar," ordered Hoffman, "and we'll let this dog get on with his life."
that evening, as the sun dropped below the dark shapes of the surrounding
mountains, Damien sat hunched at the river's edge, thinking. The humans
observing him from their blind would argue that it was not possible for
him to reflect upon past events in a way which could rightly be called
`thinking', but he was, nonetheless, thoughtful. The scientists did not
was staying away from the human's camp. He was a pit bulldog, born of
a proud race of dogs exalted for courage, but today's events had shaken
him to the core. When the drugs had
He would stay away from humans.
The decision left him feeling empty. He bent his head to lap at the river's edge, and found that he could not reach it. The awful, chafing collar they had put around his neck precluded it. He had to stand up, and then lower his shoulders to reach his muzzle to the water. Earlier he had spent hours trying to rub the collar off, but had succeeded only in wearing sores in the fine fur under it. He was resigned to it now, though not yet used to the restrictions it put upon his movements.
he finished drinking he stood a while longer in the growing dusk, gazing
across the blue-green water rushing past. He really couldn't remember
it clearly anymore, but there lingered a
* * *
was bothersome and hunting became nearly impossible. He could still dig
up the voles and mice which made up a large portion of his diet, but now
for the most part the rodents could
his hunger grew, Damien's resolve to stay away from the humans weakened.
As frightening and unpredictable as they were, they had been a
source of food. He was starving. Fifteen days
Then desperation made him bolder. On a night of torrential rain, when the noise of the downpour hitting the tents and tarps drowned out all other sounds, he came into camp while the professor and students slept. He went straight to the kitchen area and gnawed through Seth's carelessly stored food stash, gulping down bars of butter and several eggs. He chewed open plastic containers, licking up the granola and dried foods which spilled out. He left when he could find nothing more to eat, and slept that night under his fallen log, licking his lips contentedly.
the team of behaviorists watched Damien's decline with interest, they
were unaware that their tracking collar was the source of the dog's distress.
Tag, at least, should have known; before coming to work with Professor
Hoffman he had spent a year studying a population of wild geese on the
Great Lakes. He and his fellow researchers had tagged a dozen geese with
Days passed; chill, cold rain, often mixed with snow began to fall in earnest, and Damien subsisted primarily on deer droppings and grass. He was fifty pounds now, his skin sliding over prominent back and hip bones, his head narrow and skull-like. He tired easily and spent most of the day sitting on the perimeter of the camp, watching the humans. When the hunger pangs became too much to endure, he would wander off in desperate search of deer droppings.
time came when Damien, as some domestic, and even the occasional undomestic
animals do, sensed that he must go to humans. Damien did not understand
the concept of a word like
The Voice said: Your place is with the people.
So he went. Wary, uncertain of his reception and yet with a dignity found only in some few dogs of character, he stepped carefully out of the dark forest into the light of the dying fire. Hoffman was up, attended as always by Tag, everyone else having gone to their tents. Both men saw the dog and watched its strange behavior unfolding. By the light of the fire Damien could see their features, the older man gaunt almost, with a high forehead and a thin, straight nose, the younger man chunky, with a round face and flaxen hair. It was the older man the dog watched. The dog came step by wary step, closer to the men. Though his manner of moving was furtive, his eyes were not. His gaze was direct - holding Hoffman's eyes.
He was telling Hoffman that he was hurting, starving, dying. It was up to the man now, what would become of him - and somehow, to Damien, that seemed right.
dog came within five feet of the professor, then sat, his steady brown
eyes upraised to the man's. Hoffman gazed back, seeing again the Primordial
Dog, and seeing also Damien's form
watched them both, his eyes moving between the dog and the man. He decided,
in his usual overprotective manner, that it was up to him to protect Hoffman
from any misgivings the professor
Tag felt the need to say something rather quickly. "We're going to have to really keep an eye on our food supplies."
The older man's frown had deepened when Tag acted, but now his face composed itself and Hoffman sighed very quietly. "You're right," was all he said. They sat, in silence, another fifteen minutes, and then Hoffman, knowing Tag would not leave him alone by the fire tonight, went to his tent.
Damien awoke to a clear, sharp, late autumn morning. Something odd; some strange sensation had awakened him. There was nothing unusual to be seen, heard or scented, but his skin tingled with an anxious feeling, and he got to his feet. As was usual now, his thoughts turned immediately to food. The crisp air brought him the scent of the human's camp fire, coffee and cooking mush. He shuffled off wearily in that direction.
surprise awaited him as he sat in his accustomed place dully watching
the movements of the researchers. The people were taking the camp down.
In an hour they were done and, with
He sat still for quite a while, until he became aware again of the strange sensation. There was a certain heaviness of the air, as if the sky was pushing down on him. The feeling made him uneasy, and he stood up, uncertain what to do. It was a beautiful clear day, but he felt the need to seek shelter. The warning was vague, however, and not nearly so loud as the insistent demand of his hunger. He must find food today.
reports of the impending severe weather that Damien was sensing had sent
Hoffman and his group scurrying for cover. Extreme winds were predicted
- rare for this part of the state -
By late afternoon Damien reached the rock slide where Hoffman had watched his playful hunting of the marmots. The wind was blowing hard now, straight and cold down the side of the mountain. The marmots whistled and jeered but the dog stood staring dully at them for several moments. Then, with an obvious effort, he roused himself and went forward.
Cramming his head down between the rocks where one marmot had just disappeared, he inhaled the intoxicating scent of the big rodent. If he could just reach down a little farther between the rocks, he might reach one. His breathing quickened at the thought of the warm blood spilling over his tongue and the soft, broken body being crushed between his jaws. He must catch one. He drove his head inward, twisting his shoulders, the collar's box making sharp grating sounds on the granite rock. Perhaps in here he would find the animal cowering, helpless. Its scent was everywhere, taunting him, driving him to madness in his desire for food. He felt himself slip forward a couple inches, and his body corkscrewed wildly in an effort to get his muzzle just a few more inches into the space between the rocks. But it was no use, his shoulders blocked the way and he wearily began to back out, hunching up his spine, his hind paws scrabbling on the slick rock for a purchase. He went nowhere; he was stuck. He had forced the bulky collar through an opening in the rocks while his head and neck had been sideways, now, upright, the collar was wedged effectively behind the small opening.
felt no panic but continued to struggle, sure that at any moment he would
be free. For several minutes, the dog struggled but the collar was firmly
stuck behind the crevice. Exhausted,
days later Hoffman and his students were regrouped and back on the trail
headed toward their abandoned base camp. The storm had been severe, with
gusts in excess of 100 mph on the nearby coast, and the hikers' progress
was seriously impeded by the destruction dealt to the forest by the storm.
Tag and Devon labored in the point position, hacking and pushing a way
through the windfalls while the Professor, still a little sore from his
sprain, brought up the rear. It took them the entire day to get from their
vehicles to the camp, and they arrived shortly before
The next morning Seth woke first and crawled from his tent, his equipment under his arm. After a quick trip to the "beach" to dunk his close cropped, dark hair in the river and splash ice cold water on his face, he fired up the equipment and located a faint signal north-northwest of camp. As the others joined him around the rock ringed campfire where the coffee and tea pots boiled, they discussed the feasibility of following the signal through the downed brush.
"It's possible he's died," said Devon. "That would explain the stationary reading."
Hoffman nodded. "I think we have to consider it a possibility. Depending on how far out he is, we may or may not reach him today. We can get a good start though. Let's get to it."
three hours of throwing limbs aside and climbing over tree trunks, the
group retreated to camp for the evening. The faint signal had remained
stationary all day, and there was no longer
By noon the next day, they broke out of the woods onto the rock-covered hillside Hoffman recognized.
"The signal is strong here. He's close," Seth said.
Hoffman was silent, scanning the rocky hillside. The dull gray sky above blended with the dull gray of the rocks, and there was no movement anywhere. Even the marmots were absent. Then he saw the body.
"There," he said, pointing. "There he is."
The students looked where he was pointing and saw the gold and black striped shape, the head out of sight among the rocks. Even from this distance it was obvious the dog had died of starvation.
"He pegged out a while ago by the look of it," Tag said. They all began climbing up toward where the body lay.
"We'll be home for Thanksgiving," Devon said flatly.
"What a collar!" Seth said as they climbed. "Look how his head is stuck in those rocks, but we still got the signal, clear back at camp. That's intense."
"Wow," Susan exclaimed as they got close, "look at that - his head is stuck in those rocks. That's insane; the collar must have jammed."
They ganged around the dog's body, staring. "That's what happened," Susan continued, pulling her blond ponytail back and resetting the rubberband. "He got it stuck and didn't have the strength to pull free. God, I've never seen anything that thin.
"He tried. Look at the blood around his shoulders. He really tore at it - but when I put a collar on, it stays on."
"Yeah, your mother must be proud, Seth - why don't you see if you can get its head out, otherwise we're going to have to cut the collar off," Tag said.
knelt beside the body and craned his neck to see into the rock crevice.
Reaching in, he grasped the scrawny neck, determined to twist it around
and ease the collar back through
"Oh my God!" Susan breathed, her face jutting forward in disbelief. "He's alive!"
Seth jerked back with an oath and stood up. His olive skin was pale. "No way, man. No way."
Hoffman knelt down, grasping the dog's chest at the narrow point between it's elbows. "There's a pulse," he said, his eyebrows raising, "but I shouldn't expect him to live much longer." There was silence. It was an awkward moment and they all avoided each others' eyes. The professor stood up and they stared down at the cold, starved body at their feet.
"Well," Devon said, "what do we do?"
"Should I take the collar off, anyway?" Seth trailed off.
"Well at least pull his head out of there," Devon said. "It can't make much difference to the study at this point."
Seth looked at Hoffman and the professor slowly nodded.
returned to his knees beside the dog and reached into the crevice again,
much more gently this time, and eased the head around until he forced
the collar back through the opening. He
"Yuck, look at that."
dog's vain struggles had worn the skin away under the collar, and blood
and pus coated the collar strap. Lying on the rock in the cold mountain
air, the dog's body was too weak even
"Huh," said Susan uncomfortably.
"I wish we could put it out of its misery," Devon said quietly, picking up his hat and running his hand through his hair before he resettled it.
Hoffman sighed deeply. "No, let's just let nature take her course. We're simply here to observe - it's not for us to interfere. We'll come back tomorrow and record the end of the study. Let's go back to camp."
filed away, silently, not a word spoken until they arrived back at camp.
They ate dinner and sat around the campfire glumly. They had all experienced
project terminations with their
"He's probably dead by now," Devon, slumped under his hat, said into the silence.
"Oh, I would think so," Hoffman answered. "He won't make it through the night."
At first light Hoffman, Seth and Tag set off to retrieve the collar and record the end of the dog and the project. Susan and Devon stayed behind to pack up camp so they could leave when the men returned. Having packed up, and finding themselves with nothing else to do, Devon dug out the last of his stash and rolled a small joint which he and Susan shared, sitting, by force of habit, on the stumps around the dead camp fire. Hearing the faint sounds of the returning men they looked up to see Hoffman and Tag, followed by Seth, breaking out of the woods. The professor had a sheepish grin on his face and Seth carried the brindle dog over his shoulders.
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