July 13th, 2015
Here it was. The day I had been waiting for since I was eight. When I opened my eyes, it felt like a Christmas morning. I uncurled from my sleeping bag, and stretched, without a single thought of going back to sleep. Today was the day. It just felt right. I fidgeted around camp, waiting for Morgan to get up, watching the deep shadow, cast by the valley’s eastern mountains, being pushed away as a sheet of sunlight slid down the western mountains and across the river, which threw glistening rays back up out of the aqua rivulets. Unfamiliar bird songs rose from the trees as the sun reached them, warming the limbs and their feathered inhabitants. As I watched the morning come to our valley, I reflected on how crazy I must seem to my friends back home for getting a dog on a cross country road trip, how crazy I must seem to my family, and how crazy I would seem to past Shannon, who was convinced that she should only get a dog when she was stable enough to have a home with a yard for the dog to romp in.But the more I had thought about it, the more my old conception of what a dog needed fell apart. Certainly dogs required care, attention, time, space and cash for food, toys and vet bills, but I had all of those. In fact, while I was traveling I had more time to devote to playing with and training a dog than I would if I was working 9 to 5. There was plenty of space for a dog to exercise in the the places where I was camping. I wanted any dog I had to be a good traveling companion, and what better way to socialize a young dog to a traveling lifestyle than simply traveling with it. Camping would be our normal. Home was the tent. Time outside, taking in the full array of stimulating sights and smells, would be all the time. I wouldn’t have to lock her in the house all day, while I went to work. She wouldn’t be confined to a plain turf grass backyard or walks around a neighborhood. These thoughts reassured me. I had sufficiently rationalized my crazy choice, and as soon as Morgan was awake and we’d eaten our egg breakfast tacos, we were off to TRACS, the Thompson River Animal Care Shelter.We were greeted by a very kind, grandmotherly lady when we arrived, and I told her about what I was looking for in a dog and why as she showed us into the room lined spacious pens that each had their own fenced in access to outside. We walked past a few terriers and toy-sized dogs. I already knew I wanted a medium sized dog, and definitely not one that had ancestors bred specifically to hunt rats. The two dogs I was most interested in had already caught my attention in the TRACS online write up. Duke and Duchess were 8 month old border collie mixes that were noted for being curious, playful, outgoing and most of all energetic. Border collies, I already knew were a highly intelligent and very trainable breed, but it wasn’t until later that I realized they are widely considered the world’s most intelligent dogs. Looking into their pen, I was struck by how gorgeous Duke was, with half of his face covered in a black spot and the other half with a black spot brindled with brown. Pale brown freckle-like spots covered his legs and spread up to the black and brown saddle marking on his back. His sister, who was a full foot shorter than him, looked less distinctive, but was still very cute with one half of her face black, and the other half white, right down the middle. Both bounced excitedly when they saw we had leashes to take them out.Duke was clearly the boss. He pushed his way out of the pen first, and I put him on the leash, while Morgan took Duchess. Duke pulled hard, eager to get outside, and Duchess followed, pulling just as eagerly. Outside, the two dogs ran in circles around us and each other, thoroughly tangling their leashes. We untangled them and I ended up with Duchess’s leash. She looked demurely up at me and wagged her tail. As we headed toward the walking path around the fenced perimeter of the property, I said to Morgan “I think this is the dog.” But he reminded me that we had many more to look at and I should try walking Duke just as much as Duchess. While we walked the dogs, often letting them stop to sniff at something for a moment, we noticed how much more headstrong Duke was compared to Duchess. When we tuggged gently at her leash, and said “let’s go” while she sniffed, she would stop, look at us and then trot along in the direction we moved. Duke, on the other hand , resisted and continued sniffing until you pulled harder. He also seemed to have a more willful personality. He was bold and confident.
As we returned Duke and Duchess to their pen to look at a few other dogs, I lamented that Duchess seemed to have such a bland and basic personality. But Morgan pointed out that since Duke was so much larger and more dominant, he probably stifled her personality from showing or developing, and that without him around, she’d probably develop more quirky individuality. None of the other dogs we walked stood out to me. I just kept thinking about Duke and Duchess. We took each of them out to play individually. Duke didn’t pay much attention to us while we tried to get him interested in a ball. He was very independent and was more interested in checking out the sights and smells. As much as I loved his markings, I was more drawn to Duchess. When we threw the ball for her, she didn’t understand the idea of chasing it and fetching it, since no one ever taught her that game. But, when I ran to go get the ball myself, she ran beside me and we started a lively game of chase. When I called to her, she looked around and trotted in my direction.While we were playing, a truck drove up, with a large black and tan coonhound in the back. “Oh dear, that’s never a good sign. They’re bringing that dog back,” said the shelter woman who had been watching us, as she hurried off to see what had happened. I couldn’t help overhearing her thanking them for not just shooting the dog or dumping it in the woods somewhere. Apparently, it had killed one of their farm animals, and in this part of the country, shooting a dog or dumping it was a common way of dealing with a dog who had committed the ultimate doggie sin of killing valuable livestock. The dog began to bark as it was taken into the kennel, and Duchess cried out to it in irritating high pitched yelps. I had already made my decision, she was going to be my dog, but that yelping was definitely not ok and we’d have to work on teaching her not to jump up on people, since my family especially disliked jumping dogs.We filled out the last paperwork, and it was time to pay the $200 adoption fee. Morgan said it was steep, but to me it was well worth it, especially since it included a pink and purple rhinestone collar, a pink leash, two donated out-of-season toys (a pumpkin and spider from Halloween), a gallon ziplock of the food she was used to eating, all her shots (rabies, Parvo, etc), and the cost of having her fixed. But when I pulled out my credit card, the woman shook her head, they only took cash or check. So, Morgan and I drove away without a dog, back into town to the gas station ATM. Was I certain this was the right dog, the right moment to get a dog? Absolutely! I’d never been more sure. Duchess was going to be my dog. But she’d definitely need a new name. As we drove back to the shelter I played with a few names out loud. Montana seemed too obvious, and too many syllables to call out frequently. Lola, for the national forest, had a good ring, but I couldn’t help thinking about The Kinks song and the book Lolita.
Finally, we put the money in the woman’s hand, and I walked away to the van with my dog’s pink leash wrapped around my wrist. There were no pet stores in town, so we ended up going back to the gas station to get dog treats and extra dog food. The same volunteer search and rescue guy who had shown me so much Western hospitality the day before was there, and he showed me where the dog stuff was in the back of the store. They didn’t have any crates, and since I was hoping to crate train her for when I was visiting other people’s houses, I was a little bummed to not be able to start out using one. I mentioned wishing I had a crate to Mr. Western Hospitality, and he smiled and said “You could call my friend. I know he used to have two crates. A small one and a medium one. He’d probably sell it to you for cheap.” So we called, showed up at his house just up the road, and got a crate for $35. In a town with no major stores, it was pretty magical to still be able to get what we needed thanks to locals knowing locals.
As we headed back to camp, I rode in the back seat with my new pup, who licked at my face and wagged her tail slightly nervously. When we turned onto the dirt road leading to the campsite that traveled alongside the river between mountains to the east and mountains to the west, I remembered the clear divide between light and shadow in the valley that morning. My dog’s face was like shadow and light. The name Valley rolled easily off my tongue. It evoked mountains, rivers, and the greatness of the outdoors. Valley was the perfect name for my Montana dog.