We had a glorious sunny sky here in Michigan yesterday even though the breeze was bitterly hanging on to that whole winter idea.
I saddled up Clifford, and the dogs raced ahead joyously as we took a slog down the road. I use the word, “slog” not only because of the mud, but because that was pretty much Clifford’s attitude. I thought his knee might be a little stiff. We got to the corner, which was only about a mile, and I started to turn him back.
Just then Cujo (not his real name), the neighbor’s big German shepherd came bounding out, barking stiff-legged with his hackles up. Through the trees I could see a woman walking toward us. The dog bounced at her aggressively and she hesitated. She stood perfectly still as the dog took a couple more hops and stood a few feet from her, barking a loud warning.
I knew Cujo lacked confidence, hence the behavior. He was scaring this woman and he knew it. But I was also privy to the fact that the owner had been doing bite work with him with a local K9 officer — and I didn’t know if this meant that now the insecure dog thought he had permission to bite.
I sat quietly on Clifford watching this poor woman. I was in a bit of a quandary. Cajun was staying with me and Clifford. But if I approached that dog on the horse and he didn’t back off, it would surely give Cajun incentive to give him a good old fashioned whuppin’.
A second later Cujo noticed us watching, and dropped his tail and ran home. The lady came around the corner and gave me a nervous smile. As she walked toward us, this gave Cujo incentive to pursue her and now he stood at the corner barking at us all ferociously.
“He’s pretty scary, isn’t he?” I said.
“Yes, he sure is!”
I decided it was time to get off the horse, tell Cajun to stay, and chase that dog home. I held the rein out to the lady. “Would you mind holding him for a second?”
She backed away quickly. “Oh, I’m deathly afraid of horses.”
“Oh, you are? All right.” I sat up. “Well, let’s just turn around and head back then.”
I really didn’t want to reward this dog’s bad behavior by leaving. I especially didn’t want him coming after us, because there was only so much of this that Cajun was going to tolerate. But I had no other choice. I turned Clifford around and we walked slowly away. Fortunately, we got off easily because Cujo did not follow.
The lady said her name was Connie and she lived down the road a piece. “I have to go back that way,” she added.
“We’ll walk you back,” I said.
Connie was hitting a pretty nice stride that evenly matched Clifford’s. I kept him on the right shoulder of the dirt road, and she stayed on the left. We talked pleasantly as we walked along. She said she had quit smoking in January, and was now trying to exercise more by walking every day.
“How long were you a smoker?”
“Wow! Good for you!”
Between this and the way she had faced that big scary dog, and now was walking the road with a scary horse, I could see that Connie had moxie. I liked her right away.
We headed along the road and looked at the farmer’s fields, and talked aboutneighbors we knew, and how the land had changed over the past years. Connie was taking a pretty long walk. She wanted to go to the end, which was two miles away.
A car approached us from behind. “Car coming,” I said to the dogs, and they quickly flocked to Clifford’s side. The car passed slowly between Connie and us.
“Those dogs are really good,” she said.
“Most of the time,” I agreed.
Clifford had not been this direction in a long time. We don’t usually go that way because the dirt hits pavement and then there’s nowhere else to go. This was interesting for him. His ears were up and he looked around. He probably liked having the company too, because his stride lengthened and pretty soon he started to feel like his old energetic self.
I talked about Clifford and told Connie stories of his tricks, and the books, and told her about Morgan horses and how funny they are. We finally reached the road’s end and then turned back. The chilling breeze cut into us as we headed back. Since now we were going homeward, Clifford’s walk was even more vigorous. Connie was picking up the pace too.
“Is this too fast for you?” I said.
“No, this is good. But I see he likes to go faster up the hills!”
Another car approached, and this time, Connie moved over behind Clifford to let it pass.
The road stretched ahead, and as we passed our driveway, Clifford stepped irritably sideways. He was nearly bumping into our new friend in his effort to convince me to head homeward.
“Stop it!” Then I added, “That’s our driveway. He thinks he needs to go back there and have supper. He thinks I’m starving him.”
We walked up the little hill toward the corner, and as we topped it, I saw a herd of eight or nine deer bounding across the road in front of us, in full flight mode with tails up. Then, I saw why. Cujo was in hot pursuit, stretched out flat and running after them. The entire group bolted across the road and flashed through the cornfield into the distant woods.
“Well, I guess we won’t have to worry about him for awhile,” I said.
We rounded the corner anyway and escorted her up the hill until she was safely past the house. Then we stopped to say goodbye.
“That was a great walk!” I said.
“Yes it was! Come again sometime. I’m going every day with my husband and we’ll have a group sometimes.”
“I might have a business card here,” I reached into my pocket and found one. I held it out to her, and she stepped right up without hesitation and took it. She even stood by Clifford for a moment, although she didn’t touch him. To my surprise, he was a gentleman and didn’t attempt to sniff, kiss, rub, nibble or otherwise mug her.
As we parted ways, I called back to her. “That was very brave of you!”
“Well, I’ve been walking with him for awhile!” she said.
At the corner, Cujo was still nowhere in sight. Clifford snorted happily as we headed for home.
P.S. The picture is actually of Cajun, whom I captured mid-bark. He was just playing.
The dog is being reported to the Humane Society.