It came out of the blue, the big German Shepherd dog sitting on my lap. And while driving at 120 km an hour down the 401, on my way home from Montreal. Well, almost out of the blue.
For the first few hours, things went well after we left the doggy camp, where Kaiser had stayed for some time, because his master had developed an illness. Without any fuss he left both camp leader and previous master without a fuss. He laid down, just like his master said he would, and went to sleep. Up to two hours or a bit more, she figured, he would be good before needing a break. And right she was. I made one stop within the first hour to fuel up and get a Timmies coffee and snack while Kaiser sat quietly in the car, windows down, and waited until I returned, then promptly settled back to sleep. We had passed the two hour mark, with no place to pull over, when he started pacing.
For two peaceful hours he had settled quickly whenever I reached my one hand back, rested it on the seat–which he had understandably slobbered on in his nervous state, panting furiously–and always laid his head up against it. His breathing calmed each time, and his panting slowed, and then he went to sleep. Ever so carefully I pulled my hand forward each time, and ‘Voila!’…
On an occasion or two, maybe even three, when I made this transition, I allowed my car to drift ever so slightly to the right shoulder, over the ribbed pavement. And we all know what happens then. That loud startling racket. Now imagine it for a nervous sleeping dog. After the momentary startle, each time, he settled nicely again.
What started it at that particular moment, I don’t recall. Was it leftover nervousness from that startling sound a bit earlier, or did I bring my hand forward and drift slightly again, hitting the ribs at just that moment? Whatever it was, the shock of a giant dog attempting to lunge into the front seat, wiped my memory of whatever preceded that moment. He stood in the seat, pacing as much as a dog can pace with a seatbelt on. I recall that much. His panting escalated. He whined and whimpered. In my rear view mirror I watched as he looked out the back, then side windows, then up at me, eyes wild, and then repeated the cycle pacing. It all happened in a matter of seconds… much faster than I can tell it.
We had just passed the sign: 2 km’s to the next rest stop, and I was relieved to see it, wondering how long before he would need a stop desperately. When he suddenly grew frantic, I reached my hand back again to comfort and calm, but that wasn’t going to cut it. Not this time. Sweet talking and charming him was off the table. I tried food. Rejected.
And that’s when he lunged. I felt it. Saw it. And I reacted as quickly, blocking the small space between seats with my shoulder and elbow, so that he rammed into me, full force. He pulled back and dove with such determination I didn’t know what hit me. I thought his seatbelt was designed to prevent what happened next. But it didn’t. His rump planted itself firmly on my lap, his head still facing back, where the seatbelt held him. And then he jerked his face forward, throwing his bulk to the front. All of it. Leaving his head draped over my stick shift. Whimpering and panting and half wailing. and gagging ever so slightly from the choke collar he wore.
Fortunately, I still had control of the steering wheel, and did the only thing I could do. I popped in the clutch and coasted, then pulled over, hitting those darn ribbed spots, before coming to a stop.
By this time Kaiser was borderline hyperventilating. With sheer force of will, I shoved him back to the back seat so I could get him out. He then lurched forward against my seat as I reached for the door, and wouldn’t back off for anything. The flow of traffic was steady and I knew if I opened the door–which I attempted–he would lunge again, and, I feared, break the belt and make a run for it. Then I would be left to find a spot for a gorgeous corpse. I swung the door shut, and tried to talk to him. He panicked all the more.
Finally traffic moved to the far side, and I held him back while I unbelted him, and led him to the grass. We paced there for about 15 minutes. I told him to go pee, but he just paced and looked at me with those wild eye.
In that moment I was sure I had picked up a possessed creature, the way he was. He never did go pee, even though it had been a long while since I had stopped earlier to give him a drink. I sweet talked him into the back seat, belted him on as short a leash as possible, and drove the 2 kilometers to the rest stop.
I’ve never been more relieved to see a rest area. And I don’t mean that ‘relieved’ in the way I usually would. No, that wasn’t going to happen. My bladder would be just fine the whole way home.
Reasoning with him was pointless, so I didn’t bother. I only made sure I had his leash, firmly in my hand, and let him make a run for it. He dragged me around the grassy area like I was his pet, for the first few minutes. And then I took charge. Well, mostly.
It went well for a while, but he was bored and I knew he needed to get rid of some energy. So I grabbed a ball and tossed it, careful not to go beyond the reach of the leash, so that he wouldn’t break away, or yank my shoulder or some such thing. This went well. Until that moment when I forgot that I used to be a baseball pitcher with a good arm, and I threw the ball way too hard.
I saw it coming before it happened, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. I had to roll with it. Almost literally. I was in crocs, flopping around in the grass, not in running shoes like I used to wear for sports and still wear for long walks. And I’m almost 47 now. Not 14, 17 or 23. Also, I don’t run anymore. I still walk briskly, if I’m so inclined, but since surviving a massive heart attack in 2006, running pushes up my heart rate higher than it’s supposed to go. So I don’t run. Usually.
But that all changes in a moment like that, when you throw the ball and you have a leash firmly in your grip, wrapped about your hand a few times. Especially if the force at the other end of that leash is a muscular German Shepherd with anxiety and brutal pent up energy. In a moment like that you run again. Fast. And clumsy. Dragging those flip flops awkwardly and wishing to goodness they would fly off. But they don’t. No. They flap about carelessly and try to trip you, and you find yourself running and lurching forward most awkwardly, bent over in what should really end in a nose dive. But you are stubborn and fight back. You keep that leash firmly in your grip, and schlop along behind him, because this dog you just met… well… only God knows what he is capable of or what he will do if he is on the loose in the middle of God’s green earth with no one at the other end of the leash… so you run awhile at that angle, feeling more like ninety than forty-seven. And you don’t even have it in you to pray, because you’re focusing so hard on holding the animal back and staying on your feet. Until finally you surrender, let that leash fly and gradually bring yourself to an upright position. If he perishes, he perishes, you tell yourself. Which is almost biblical. And you’re no Esther willing to go down for the cause.
You stand there a brief moment, relieved to have landed upright, and, then, promptly bend over laughing so hard you cry. And being who you are, you look around to make sure you didn’t have an audience. But it’s a public rest stop and there are people here and there. Quickly you realize you are not alone; there are several bikers dying laughing with you. So you take it all in stride, and you wave, because what else can you do? And then you grab your dog, who now has the ball and is ready for another round.
In mere moments you become much older and wiser, and you set your forty-seven year old bottom firmly on the grass, like a tree well rooted, grab that leash yet more firmly, and throw the ball. Ever so gently. Because there is no way you will have that happen again.
No more have you started to play, when the other dogs start coming. And it’s almost like every dog traveling the 401 have timers set, to stop right then, and traumatize an already troubled, overgrown puppy.
…to be continued.
~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger