I was on a the first two-days of a two-week pet sit in Hampstead Norreys England (through Trusted House Sitters) for two dogs, Zula and Domino, and two big beautiful kunekune pigs, Hamish and Greta. John was finishing up a lovely pet sit we had in Swanick, England, just outside of Southampton. He was about an hour away and was going to meet up with me in a couple of days. For the next two days, I was alone in a remote vintage farmhouse, just me and the animals. What could go wrong?
Then one night, “Zula, Zula, come on baby, come home now”. My throat was tight, the night was dark and there was no sign of Zula, the ridgeback pup. Domino, the one-eyed cocker who was the other half of the duo was right by my side, looking up at me with sympathy. It was as though she was saying, “Zula always does this. She will show up, eventually.”
John was away with other pets to manage. I would need to handle the situation on my own. I needed to figure out how to get Zula back in the house all safe and sound. The homeowners warned me that she may skedaddle and not to worry because in due course she would return. After a very long hour of pacing, I had to go out and find her. Zula’s nightly adventure may be okay with the homeowners who knew her, but it was not okay with me. The pets are my charges and I run a tight ship. I felt uneasy with the “she will come back eventually” prognosis. Zula was AWOL and I went into sergeant mode.
It was around 10 PM when I decided to go out to find her. The sky was black, winds were stirring up, and there was news of a big snowstorm coming our way. I could not help but think this is how Dorothy ended up in Oz, chasing after a dog that would not come when called. The ground was already covered with a thin layer of white which made it extra hard to see the pathways which curved through the acres of fields that surrounded the farmhouse. There was no yellow brick road.
I looked at Domino and said, “What the heck, I have to go and find her.” Domino seemed to shrug her shoulders as if to say “Whatever, she will show up…. sometime.” Domino had no sense of time and did not share my sense of urgency. Domino trotted off to the warm stove ready for snooze.
With anxiety whirling like the wind, I grabbed the farm truck keys, the dog whistle, heavy coat, cap, scarf, gloves, flannel lined wellies (a kind of boot) and quickly headed out into the darkness before I lost my nerve. A ladder would have been helpful in getting my short body into the driver’s seat of the big old farm truck. With a mighty heave-hoe, I managed to hoist myself into the truck and arranged myself behind the steering wheel which was pretty much at my eye level and was on the right-hand side, of course. This would be the stuff of comedy if the situation weren’t so dire. With a couple of tries the truck started and I headed up the hill behind the barn searching for the pup. During our afternoon walk, Zula spent most of her time going over the hill so that was where I was heading.
The truck’s dim lights, faltering windshield wipers, and the light snow made visibility almost impossible. Between concern for the dog, my commitment as a pet sitter, and an American driving a big truck on the “wrong” side of the road, only sheer force of will kept my nerves from overtaking me. Slowly but surely, I drove on hoping to stay on the track of the pathways which in a storm at night seemed more like impressions of a road than anything approximating something navigable.
I was bumping around as I drove over the rocks and stumps. The window was open, and I was blowing the whistle which supposedly Zula would hear and was trained to come running to me as she did during the day. I kept driving, blowing the whistle and in frustration spitting out the whistle and yelling her name. The farmhouse was getting smaller and smaller and soon was just a speck in the distance. The snow was starting to accumulate. The darkness of night grew as the light of the house dwindled in the distance. I was having trouble staying on the track. I was concerned that the truck was going to get stuck. My imagination went wild as I envisioned the truck conking out or sliding down an embankment. I would struggle out of the truck, lose my way back to the farmhouse, and freeze to death. A trip to Oz would turn into a horror movie.
Reluctantly, I headed back to the farmhouse longing for the warm pot belly stove, comfy pillow loaded sofa and Domino. I tried to reassure myself that everything would be alright, but the saboteurs of my mind kept piling on uncomfortable thoughts. “What if she is lost and doesn’t come back home? What if she is hurt? What if the storm carries her away or a wild animal goes after her?” On and on it went as I slowly maneuvered the big truck back to the farmhouse still blowing the whistle and calling her name.
At the barn I carelessly parked the truck and shambled down out of the truck defeated. Domino was yapping inside the front door trying to hurry me along. I did my best to hurry, stumbling and calling to Domino, “I’m coming”. When out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move in the dark and a quick shot of panic vibrated through my body. Slowly I made out the slender shape of Zula. She was happily gnawing on the leg of a muntjac, a small deer, as she was proudly heading to me to share her prize.
She was thrilled that I showed up! Her butt end was wagging, and sweet little sounds were coming from her mouth. Her eyes were focused on me and her ears flapping as she romped around with the yard long muntjac leg. Of course, Domino was now at my side, looking up saying “I told you so!”
As I look back at the situation, I think it was Zula’s way of welcoming me. She had even brought me the gift of muntjac meat, which I politely declined. I had to fight the conflicting emotions of pride and disgust at her hunting nature. A dog is going to be a dog. She trusted me and we were besties. Now whenever I would toot the whistle during our long walks through the fields, her little head would pop out from the woods’ edge or up from over the hilltop. We would make eye contact and then off she would go running, chasing, leaping, and frolicking. A ridgeback is beautiful in motion, and it made my heart happy to see her run through her fields but I really loved that she regularly checked in with me.
Regardless of what homeowners may say, we always have to work out our own relationship with the pets. With Zula it was like dealing with a child. She pushed her boundaries from the start, wondering how far she could go, always resistant to any suggestions that might conflict with what she had in mind. I think our relationship solidified when she knew that I cared enough to go out in the cold, snowy night to look for her. Then she was willing to share her prize and her trust.
Hope to see you on the road,
Bev and John
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