by Vivian I. Zumstein
Kneeling on my hands and knees trimming a low hedge, I hear a rustling of leaves on the opposite side of the plant in front me. My mind makes quick calculations. Too heavy to be one of the birds that flit through my garden. Even too big to be a scampering squirrel. As I gather myself to recoil, a familiar face bursts through the foliage.
Eyes sparkling, Sparky tilts his head and fixes me with his friendly grin. A handsome Jack Russell terrier, Sparky is mostly white with a sprinkling of subtle darker flecks on his body. Two brown and black patches cover both eyes and one ear. A thin white blaze runs between his eyes before broadening at his nose. His stubby tail protrudes from a small brown spot, oscillating like a metronome in overdrive.
|Sparky is a free spirit. No fence can hold him, and a command to come is just so much wind.
I relax and caress his head. Hey, Sparky. How ya doin? Sparky leans his body against me, wriggling with pleasure.
In todays world of leash laws and invisible fences, Sparky is an anachronism. When I was a preschooler, my Norwegian elkhound, Stormy, was my constant shadow. In those ancient days, when parents deemed it safe for three-year-olds to wander neighborhoods alone, Stormy settled on the stoop of whichever house I happened to enter. To locate me, my mother walked into the street and called my name. Stormy ran out and wagged her tail before returning to the stoop. My mother then knew I was at the Montgomerys or the Frasiers. Those days are gone. Sparky just doesnt know it.
Sparky moved in with Ramona a few years ago. No one knows where Sparky came from. Ramona advertised, but he went unclaimed, surprising for a healthy, young, purebred dog. I suspect his previous owner got tired of going out to find him every time he ran away, only to have him wander off again.
Ramona feeds Sparky, walks him, lets him sleep on her bed and pays his vet bills. He sports a tag with Ramonas address identifying him as Sparky-Doggie-Dog. In exchange, Sparky endures with grace the various bandanas and sweaters she submits him to. But he does not allow Ramona to own him. Sparky is a free spirit. No fence can hold him, and a command from Ramona to come is just so much wind.
As he ignores yet another command, Ramona grins. Hes bad, isnt he? she notes with pride.
Sparky spends most days making the rounds in the neighborhood. He gets away with his roaming tendencies by exuding bonhomie. He has a smile and a lick for everyone. Hes small enough to present no threat and wise enough not to actually catch any of the cats he chases.
Ramonas other dog (yet another mercy adoption) is a huge mastiff named Sampson. The three of them on a walk is a study in contrasts. Sparky prances ahead, ears up, eyes alert. Sampson lumbers behind, head down, bringing up the rear. Ramona crabs sideways stretched between them, her arms extended full length fore and aft.
The reception Sparky gets from other dogs varies. My two reflect the diverse opinions. My Labrador, Sunny, loves him. She and Sparky tear across my lawn in high endurance races until they collapse, sides heaving and tongues lolling. Pika, my small, territorial mutt, views Sparkys presence as a personal insult. He is an invader to be expelled. Unfortunately for Pika, Sparky possesses speed. He leads her on merry chases, frolicking just ahead of her snapping jaws until she capitulates and tolerates him, too exhausted to commence another fruitless pursuit.
A few moments after his arrival, Sparky is ready to move on. He tries to give me a parting smooch, but his doggy breath deters. He doesnt take the rejection personally. With a jaunty swagger he is off to the next stop on his leash-law-violating rounds.