Cruiser liked to chase my horses. I was on horse number three, since she’d arrived next door. His name was Questie for the question-mark blaze on his face. He was in his twenties and not prone to tolerate mischief, especially from a canine, a species he considered sub-par. During a snowstorm, my brother-in-law and sister were not home, and Cruiser was once again trapped outside in the elements. She sought refuge in the barn with Questie. The next morning she drug herself to the house, her tail hanging. She moped around all day, and when I walked to the mailbox with the kids she drug herself along.
We had a family commune for several years, which was heaven for my children. Grandparents on the right, cousins on the left equaled heaven for them. Cruiser loved my dad because he never tired of throwing her sticks. Cruiser would spend hours at his house as he worked on the house siding, the garage, the Honda Civic, the Ford pickup, and Dad never failed her. My father was a tall, silent man, like my husband, but he always smiled when he saw Cruiser coming, and they would find the perfect stick together to begin the day’s session.
This day Dad was working on his pickup, replacing an alternator. He took one look at Cruiser and asked what was wrong. The kids stopped making snowballs and came to inspect. Cruiser stood with her back arched and her tail drooping. The snow came up to her belly and created an insulator of sound. Even the winter birds chirping in the trees sounded muffled.
“Is she sick?” Dad asked.
“I think she’s just depressed about the snow,” I replied.
We all jumped.
Sine cried, “Poor Cruiser!”
And that was that. We had to take her to the vet. This is not my dog, I kept reminding myself, but my father was ready to go, and my mother volunteered to watch Tim and Sine. I looked at Cruiser and wondered what she’d been up to. She looked back with her sad brown eyes. I ran back to the house, grabbed a big blanket and the car keys, and drove through the deep snow to my father’s.
We live on three acres, sandwiched between two acres lots, one with a house for my sister and her husband, and one with a house for my mom and dad. I drove down our long driveway, sliding and slipping, to my dad who was ready to load Cruiser into our Ford Pinto. She filled the backseat and cried when my dad accidentally touched her tail again.
I felt safe as I drove on the icy white highway into town to the veterinary office. There were few cars on the road. My father had taught me how to drive in the snow when I was sixteen. We were a family of successful snow-drivers.
“Just take it slow, and if you slide, turn into it. Don’t gun the engine,” etc., etc.
I had chains in the trunk and my dad in the passenger seat. We set out and reached a top speed of twenty miles per hour once we hit the highway. We passed four-wheel drive vehicles throwing up rooster tails of snow, and everyone waved. It was like a celebration of our skill to maneuver through the sloppy, wet Pacific Northwest snow. It’s not like that now. Too many people who didn’t have my dad to teach them how to drive. Poor bastards.
I’d called ahead, so the vet was expecting us. Cruiser was her only patient on this snow day, except for the animals in-hospital, the ones that meant she had to get to work. We led Cruiser into the office, dragging her tail. The vet took one look at Cruiser and announced, “She has a broken tail.”
Dad and I looked at each other and shook our heads. Dad’s frown showed his concern. He really loved this half-wild German Shepherd, and Cruiser looked back at him with a steady gaze that said, “Please fix this.”
“What can we do?” I asked.
“Keep her inside, give her a round of antibiotics, and let her heal.”
“I can’t very well put a caste on it. It’s broken at the dock. Do you know what might have happened?”
I thought about it, and my dad kneeled down to rub Cruiser’s ears. She panted her appreciation. Then I remembered. Cruiser had spent the night in the barn with Questie, her arch-enemy.
“She might have gotten kicked,” I said. By a horse that hates her guts, I didn’t say out loud.
“You have a horse?” the vet asked.
“Cruiser chases him,” I said.
We all stood looking down at Cruiser, who sensed for the first time that barking at and chasing Questie had not set the proper precedence for sharing sleeping space.
“Looks like Questie got revenge,” she said, and we all chuckled at Cruiser’s expense.
“One more thing. Dogs lift their tail to go to the bathroom. Cruiser won’t be able to do that for a while.”
Cruise looked sufficiently mortified, her agony subtle and quiet.
I paid the vet, and we loaded Cruiser back into the Pinto with only one yip. I drove to the nearest grocery store.
“Guess I’ll have to buy dog food,” I said.
Dad sat and smiled. I think he knew, or had at least seen the writing on the wall. My brother-in-law was never home, nor was my sister, but I was. Me and the kids in the yard playing, and Cruiser came to visit us every day.
She was the scourge of the neighborhood, the eater of small dogs, the killer of cats, and now she was ours.
“What will you tell Miller?” Dad asked.
“He owes me $200.00,” I said.
Dad just shook his head.
“Hmm, I think I just bought myself a dog.”
And I did. The kids loved her, and she loved the kids. She actually settled down after she’d healed. She lived in our basement for days, and cried piteously when she finally had to evacuate her bowls. It was either endure the pain or explode. I fed her medicine in chunks of cheese, which she gobbled down like ambrosia. She never trusted or liked other people, though. That’s when her wild streak would rise. She’d bark and growl, like the wild thing she was. She had an equal opportunity attitude toward her protection of family, and I often ran interference between guests and Cruiser—guard dog extraordinaire .