Passion of Mind

Harley - My Dog, My Hero

 "My sunshine doesn't come from the skies, it comes from the love in my dog's eyes." -Unknown

Harley and I heard several shots being fired just as we were turning into the woods for our morning walk. The hunting season has been going on for weeks and we kept running into hunters much too often. Even though always friendly to us, I suspected that they saw us as nuisance, considering that some of their dogs - all equipped in GPS - would at the very sight of us instantly forget about the task that they were given. The hunters eventually found their dogs having the time of their lives running around playing with Harley, but getting the dogs to follow the hunters again was a different story. The only dog that never seemed to get distracted by seeing Harley was a Norwegian Elkhound who, with his nose to the ground following the scent of his prey, would pass Harley without even looking at us. Most of the other hunting dogs that we have met couldn't resist Harley's charm and found playing with him much more interesting than hunting. Looking from the bright side, I would like to think that Harley and I have saved lives of a few wild animals by being a distraction for the dogs.  Running with me around the woods every day since he was a puppy, Harley is used to seeing moose, deer, and fox and while always friendly and happy to approach them if he gets a chance, he has been raised not to chase them when they choose to run away.
In an attempt to avoid the risk of getting accidentally shot by the hunters on that particular morning, I chose to turn onto a narrow and - considering the time of year - rarely traveled path, being fairly sure that we wouldn't run into anyone there. The ground was frozen and some of the roots and rocks sticking out everywhere were slippery. Harley navigates through any territory with ease and grace and a few slippery patches would never be a concern for him, so when he stopped and looked at me seemingly questioning my decision, I understood that he was concerned about me. Considering the fact that I have always been a fast walker, I was moving unusually slowly trying to avoid the slippery patches. Harley studied every step I took staying just next to me and carefully watching my facial expression. I very well knew the reason to Harley's behavior...
A few years ago, I fell and broke my ankle on my run back home with Harley. I ended up having a cast on my leg for 6 weeks and obviously wasn't supposed to take walks with my broken ankle. Used to several long walks with me every day, Harley essentially refused to leave my side, so after 2 weeks, with my broken leg, the cast on, against doctor's orders, and in the middle of winter with lots of snow and ice everywhere, I made the ingenious decision to continue my walks with Harley. I was walking very slowly and very carefully, partly because of the pain and the cast being in my way and partly because of how slippery it was outside. Unable to walk in the woods as we normally did every day, we walked around town instead. With quite a bit of traffic around, I put Harley on the leash, which he considers to be a quite unusual event, but accepts with no objections. Harley took it upon himself to watch over me and for many weeks, every time we took a walk, he always positioned himself one step behind me examining every step I took and intently watching my facial expression. If I on occasion gasped as a result of sudden increase of pain due to stepping wrongly, Harley would stop on the spot knowing that I would need a moment to collect myself before taking another step. When Harley once in a while, intrigued by a scent, would slightly speed up, I quickly said: "Easy Harley, easy" and Harley would immediately slow down. I would then praise him by saying: "Good boy Harley, good easy". Later that winter, when the cast came off and I got my leg back into shape, Harley would run and walk next to me at our regular fast pace, but as the years went by, I noticed that he never fully forgot the winter when I broke my leg and every year when it gets slippery outside and I slow down struggling on particularly slippery patches, Harley immediately positions himself behind me carefully watching every step I take the way he did the winter I broke my leg.
As we now walked on the narrow slippery path in the woods, I noticed that Harley's full attention was on how carefully I walked. I acknowledged his concern by stopping and looking at Harley saying: "go ahead, I'm fine" wanting him to pass me and enjoy the walk running around, carrying big logs as he often does and researching scents rather than worrying about me. Harley hesitated, so I repeated: "go ahead", in addition making an arm gesture to support my words. Harley looked at me with an "are you sure?" facial expression, and as I repeated my words once again, Harley went ahead of me and I followed him on the narrow path. He stayed, as usual, close to me turning around every now and then keeping track of me. It has been extremely windy for several days the week before and as it finally calmed down over the last few days, I could see the extend of the destruction. Several large trees were pulled out of the ground with huge roots and were now laying around all over the place. Harley was jumping over the fallen trees clearing them with ease while I was either climbing over them or, if possible, walking around them taking the long route.
Just when I thought that the worst was over, I slipped on a frosty rock and slid down a slant just off the path landing on my back straight under one of the fallen trees. Harley appeared by my side in an instant waiting for me to get up, but I couldn't. I didn't seem to be seriously injured and other than feeling pain in my right arm, my back and hips, I was fine. The tree was not laying tight on me, but it was restricting my movements and several of the branches seemed to have a hold of my right leg. In addition to the pain I was feeling, the ground was slippery and lying on my back, with the impeded ability to move, I couldn't pull myself up from under the tree.
Harley started to understand the situation and seeing that I couldn't get up, he began to dig around me in an attempt to get me out. I was grateful for his help, but seeing that he was getting worried and knowing that his digging wouldn't be enough, I said "Harley, no digging". He stopped for a moment, looked at me lying there not being able to get up, whimpered and started to dig again with even bigger determination. It took me several attempts to make him stop digging and every time Harley took a break and looked at me, I saw bigger fear in his eyes when he realized that I wasn't able to get up. Harley was scared and being worried myself, I had to make sure to somehow keep us both calm. "Harley" - I said, and before I had the chance to finish my thought, Harley lied next to me kissing me all over my face trying to comfort us both the best he could. All I wanted was to hug Harley, kiss him and somehow quiet his fears, but I knew that I had to remain my composure pretending that there was nothing to worry about, as if Harley panicked, things would only get worse.  "Harley" - I said in a calm, yet firm manner. "Harley, sit" - I repeated to keep his concentration. He immediately sat and looked at me at full attention as I continued talking: "get help, Harley get help!". Harley starred at me for a second with a worried look in his eyes before a flash of understanding went across his face. "Yes" - I said enthusiastically, "yes Harley, bring help" - I substituted the word "get" for "bring" as that's the word I use most often when Harley and I play and I ask him to bring various toys to me. I could tell that Harley understood, but I could also see that he was tormented by the thought of leaving me and as he whimpered, he snuggled next to me once again planting more kisses on my face. Harley has never been trained to be a rescue dog and he has never been in a situation where he needed to save me in any way. I hoped that Harley's love and devotion for me would guide his instinct and make him figure out what to do in order to help me. I have seen Harley do things that I never knew dogs were capable of doing and his extraordinary behavior has astounded me many times, but for the first time in my life, I was fully dependent on Harley. He looked at me with his beautiful, soulful eyes and then started once again to dig around me, whimper and kiss me. "Harley, stop" - I said calmly holding back the tears. Hearing the occasional shots being fired, I knew that the hunters were still in the woods. "You need to bring help ! Harley, bring help" - I repeated pointing with my head in the direction of where I just heard another shot coming. Harley sat down breathing heavily, partly from all the digging and partly from stress that the situation was causing him. I could tell how much Harley was struggling between doing what I was asking him to do and his desire to stay by my side. As he made a move like he was about to run, I encouraged him with an enthusiastic "yes Harley, bring help". He yelped, gave me oodles of kisses, whimpered again clearly tormented by the decision of leaving me and then took off like a speeding bullet.
I was cold lying on the frozen ground, my body was aching and I was scared that even if Harley found the hunters and tried to let them know that they needed to follow him, the hunters might just ignore him, or even worse, send him away thinking that he was just a dog who wandered off. And then an even worse thought went through my mind striking an absolute terror into me: what if as Harley suddenly appeared with the speed of lightning, the hunters would accidentally shoot him before realizing that he was a dog... ? I was fighting back the tears hoping that the hunters looked very carefully before firing a shot. The minutes seemed to drag themselves forever until I heard an absolute pandemonium clearly made by Harley some distance away. I have never heard him make these sounds before - it seemed to be a combination of barks, whimpers, screams, cries and yelps all rolled into one and I couldn't stop the tears hearing the alarm, pain and desperation in the sounds that Harley was making and knowing how much distress my accident was causing him. I heard a male voice calling and then more barking coming from other dogs - most likely the hunting dogs joining Harley.
I kept listening very carefully and eventually heard Harley's bark and cry much closer, so I knew that he was on his way back to me. Only a short while later, I saw Harley running at full speed towards me, leaping through air like a cheetah. He threw himself on me giving me dozens of wet kisses all over my face and before I had the chance to praise him, Harley took off again disappearing from my eye site. I heard him bark again and immediately heard several male voices seemingly replying to him and then one strong bark indicating that Harley was having the last word. Seconds later I saw a site that would most likely make me laugh if I wasn't so cold, in pain and stuck under the fallen tree. Harley was in the lead with three out of breath hunters following right behind him. They were clearly moving as fast as they could carrying their backpacks and rifles, but Harley showed no mercy and as I watched the exhausted hunters, Harley turned around, ran back positioning himself behind the slowest moving hunter, barked and pushed him with his head forcing all the hunters to move even faster. Interestingly, no one was protesting...
As they were approaching, one of the hunters seeing me lying under the fallen tree shouted: "how badly are you hurt?" and when I answered that other than being trapped, I was fine, he replied barely being able to catch his breath: "Your dog is either very well trained in how to get help or crazy in love with you. I have never seen such iron will". Before I managed to answer, Harley ran up to me, lied down and kissed me over and over again looking so proud of himself for bringing the hunters to help me. Harley knew that he did something very important. I hugged him and held him close to me suddenly feeling how much his body was shaking from all the stress and worry that he was experiencing... I couldn't stop the tears anymore and as I kept kissing him repeating time after time: "good boy Harley, good boy", Harley pressed his shaking body against mine giving a relieved whimper and covering my face with oodles of kisses. "I guess we got our answer" - the hunter said smiling as he approached us.
Harley refused to move and insisted on snuggling next to me keeping me warm. The hunters didn't waste any time and after making sure that I wasn't injured, they got to work in order to pull me out from underneath the fallen tree with Harley practically glued to me supervising their endeavor. It turned out to be more difficult than anticipated as my right leg was trapped by several branches seemingly "wrapped" around my leg. I couldn't fall this way if I tried and yet I managed to tangle myself up within a split second and with no effort. Trying to pull me out, not only didn't work, but also caused me more pain, so one of the hunters decided to crawl under the fallen tree to cut several of the branches around my right leg while the other two hunters pulled me out. Harley seeing me standing up instantly ran into my arms and still shaking out of stress, he kept kissing me relieved that I was ok. I was holding him repeating over and over how good of a boy he was and how much I loved him. Harley has heard me say these words to him thousands and thousands of times in his life and understands them well. As I held and kissed Harley, I slowly felt how his body started to relax and his trembling was decreasing. I was freezing, but other than having some pain, I was ok.
I drank the hot cup of coffee that one of the hunters gave me to warm up and thanked them for following Harley and coming to my rescue adding that even though I was against recreational hunting, I sure was happy that they were around that day. "You have a real hero here" - one of the hunters replied pointing at Harley. "No one takes this path during winter and without your dog's rescue action and us hunting this morning, you could have been in real trouble" - the hunter said and then continued telling me in detail about how Harley found them and led to me.
Just as I suspected, Harley suddenly bolted out from the woods onto the edge of the open area where the hunters were sitting and in an instant, very clearly let the hunters know that they needed to follow him. Based on Harley's behavior, the hunters immediately understood that something was wrong, grabbed a few of their belongings and followed Harley without hesitation. Harley ran back to me with the speed of lightning turning around every few seconds keeping track of the hunters making sure that they were behind him. Whenever Harley saw that they were falling further and further behind, he must have thought that they were slacking off, so he kept turning around, running back and giving them a push in their behinds trying to force them to move faster. When that didn't give the results that Harley expected, he yelped, barked and cried expressing the importance of the situation. Harley was relentless forcing the hunters to move faster than they physically were able to until they got to me. I don't know what the outcome of the situation would have been if not for Harley, but that fateful day I learned that in times of crisis, I could count on Harley to save my very life.
My love for Harley goes beyond the words I have. He is my anchor, my furry ballast that absorbs my sadness, celebrates my joy and walks through life with me. We share complete understanding and certainly have a secret language. We anticipate each other, communicate without words and at times, we are almost telepathic. But while I love and care for Harley with an intensity that's incomparable, I'm quite aware that he is not human. In fact, that's partly why I find our love and devotion to each other so moving. Harley inspires me like no person ever has. His love for me can be comic and neurotic at times, but always uplifting, pure, powerful, boundless and intense. Harley can't put any limits on it. With Harley by my side, always so exceptionally protective and attentive to me as we walk through life together, I have never felt safer. He watches over me like a guardian angel.
Harley - My Dog, My Hero

Copyright © 2012  by Monika Laryett-Olson

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