My path here was roundabout, here being a place with space to roam and explore within a context of belonging. Here I’ve come to know something I’d not known before: trust. Sometimes it feels foreign, and I retreat back to my native high alertness.
I had lived on a ranch where I had a job to do: tending the livestock. I took my job seriously and performed it with singular focus, but the time came when the cattle were moved and the people left. I ran after their truck, sure there had been some mistake, until I could run no longer. I returned to the empty place; knowing no other place else since puppyhood, I stayed.
There was a trickle of water at the edge of the property from which I drank. I passed my days foraging for food. The starry night was my blanket, the warm sun my companion, the rain my welcome, thirst-quenching friend. And so I passed my time.
One day I saw a car coming from a distance, a cloud of dust trailing behind it. People I didn’t know emerged from the car. It was the woman who saw me first, pointing me out to the others then calling to me. I approached her cautiously.
She stooped down, holding her hand out to me. I looked into her eyes then walked to her. She touched my forehead, my ears, my neck and spoke to me quietly. I didn’t understand her words, but I understood her. She placed her hand on my spiny back, each finger resting in an indent between my ribs.
They took me to their house. I hung behind as we walked in, as I’d never before been inside a house. A cat at the far side of the room arched his back and widened his eyes. I looked toward the woman for reassurance, who nodded. I moved slowly toward the cat, my head hung low to show respect. I reached my neck forward and touched his nose with my nose. The cat sat down and began bathing his paw. I went back and stood beside the woman, glancing up to her to make sure I’d done the right thing. She placed her hand gently on my head. I closed my eyes.
These days, there is a cedar-smelling bed near the woodstove and bowls of fresh food and water for me, always. Sometimes I walk to the far edge of the property and sit on the bluff. From there I gaze out toward the place I used to live and back toward the place I now call home. I almost always lay my head on my paws and, under the big sky, doze. Later, I rise, shake myself off, and follow the familiar path home. There, I am greeted with love, always.
•photo by untoldanimalstories.org co-founder Cherie Damron, http://cdamron.exposuremanager.com/