Anger welled inside. I was mad at the lady. Mad at Pony for being such a dumb dog and running away. Mad at Youngest for letting her out.
“Pal!” I yelled. “Come on.” I slipped bare feet into my rubber boots.
Youngest sulked into the kitchen and looked around in the shoe bin. “I can’t find any shoes,” he said. He scratched his bug bite. “I’m itchy.”
I waved toward the yard where four or five tennis shoes lay. “That’s because you leave them out under the trampoline, and Pony gets them and chews them up.”
“Those aren’t mine.”
“Amazing.” I tossed him one of my pink sneakers, then the other. “Here put these on.”
He did. We headed outside. The air was oppressive, hot and sticky. The rain hadn’t relieved the humidity at all. “Okay, Pal. Show me where you went, exactly, when you went out to get the mail.”
He, scraping along in too-big shoes, led me down the driveway where he paused at the end and dramatically looked left and right, checking for traffic on our little-used gravel road. We crossed it and stood at the mailbox. I poked around in the ditch, looking for any sign of Pony. Nothing.
“Then I went back to the house. This way.”
“Which side was Pony on?” I asked. “Over here, by the soybeans? Or over here by the creek?”
He pointed to the creek.
“Maybe she wanted a drink of water,” he said.
“Maybe,” I said. “Thanks, Pal. You can go play.” He shuffled on ahead. As he passed the jewelweed patch, he pulled a few leaves from a stalk and rubbed it on his bug bite.
After three days, there was no sign of Pony, our heavily pregnant bitch. It rained that night, too, three-quarters of an inch. Another half inch was on the way, according to Paul Huttner and MPR. Given that the creek was rising and the hoards of coyote packs roaming wild out here, I became convinced Pony was dead meat. The Seven Mile Creek coyotes are very wily. I remembered a morning shortly after we’d gotten Pony. Husband and I had watched from our kitchen window as one big stud stalked down the driveway trying to lure her into chasing him. It’s a tactic coyotes use to coax dogs into a place where the rest of the pack waits to ambush. She’s so dumb, I thought then. Husband went out and saved her canine hide.
I was certain she’d fallen prey to those merciless killers. I walked the ravine of Seven Mile Creek expecting, around every bend, to find her ravaged body with the itty-bitty bones of her barely born puppies strewn about in a fiendish massacre. She’s so dumb, I thought.
After another few hours of searching and a teary phone call to my friend Jennifer, I decided I needed to get out of the house, off the farm, and away from the futile search for Pony. I’d pick Jennifer up from work in Minneapolis and go out and listen to some music. Sufficiently showered, fluffy-haired, and stuffed into some jeans from 2007, I readied to go.
I threw my purse into the passenger side. Then, I heard the jingle of Pony’s dog collar. Like a penguin mother identifying the distinct call of her chick above the din of thousands, I recognized that sound over the rush of the creek and the pick-up of the wind out front of the coming rain.
I stood up straight and turned toward the ravine. “Pony?” Rustle, jingle, rustle, jingle.
Up she loped out of the creek ravine. She was boney and droopy. She shook herself. Her skin moved loosely over her skeleton. Clumps of mud flew. I bent over and patted my thighs. “Oh my God, Pony.” She came near me but not close enough to touch. “Come here.” I patted my thighs again. She lowered her head and put back her ears and tip-toed toward me, if dogs can tip-toe. She seemed embarrassed. When she was within reach, I snatched her collar and held tight.
I forced her into a hug. I sat down in the driveway in my too-tight jeans and said, “Pony, Pony, Pony. Where were you?”
I led her to the house where I latched her collar onto the porch. I dumped four or five cups of fresh dry dog food into the bowl that already had some and brought her fresh water. She attacked the food but ignored the water. Hungry, but not thirsty. I inspected her. What looked like remnants of afterbirth was dried to the fur on her backside. She was full with milk. You’ve had the puppies. Where are the puppies? When she was finished, I untethered her leash from the porch and said, “Let’s go! Let’s go get the puppies?” She perked up and took off, yanking me along.
She led me down the driveway, past the patch of jewelweed, which produces the “stuff” we use to treat mosquito and gnat bites. She pulled me past the grove where we pull ramps in the spring. She tugged me beyond the intake drain where the nasty woodchuck lives to the end of the driveway with the tall, dead trees where the eagles perch to hunt gophers and mice. There, she turned left, around the head of Seven Mile Creek and into the soybean field that runs adjacent to it. She dragged me, in sandals, through the tangly rows then back toward the creek. The barrier between the field and creek is full of 5-foot tall cockleburs, barbed gooseberry and currant bushes, poison ivy, and fallen limbs from oak and maple and cottonwood trees, and we twisted through it. On and on she jogged until I began to suspect we were on a wild goose chase, and Pony had no intention of leading me to her puppies. I pulled her toward me and unhooked the leash. “Fine,” I said. She tore down the ravine, crossed the creek, and headed back toward the house. I took the long way around. When I got back to the house, she was lying on the blanket set up as her birthing place. She slept.
I wondered about whether to leash her or not. If I did, if the puppies were alive, they would get hungry, cry out, and attract coyotes. So, I didn’t. I got in my car, drove to Minneapolis and bored one stranger after another about my adventure with Pony. When I got back home, around 2 am, she was gone again. I filled her food bowl and went to bed.
Nicole Helget is a multi-genre author. Her most recent book, "THE END OF THE WILD" is a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice, a Parents' Choice Award Winner, a Charlotte Huck Award Honor Book, a New York Public Library Best Books for Kids, a Kirkus Best Middle-Grade Book, an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students, a Best STEM Trade Books for Students K-12, a Georgia Children's Book Award Nominee, and the Minnesota Book Awards Middle Grade Winner. She works as a teacher, manuscript guide, editor, and ghostwriter. She lives in rural St. Peter with her family and dogs. You can follow the Dogs of Oshawa Township at @TheOshawa on Twitter.