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Labrador Morning

Saturday, March 24, 2018

It was such a beautiful morning. Cold, but every morning has been cold.
I’m used to cold. 23 degrees meant four layers, gloves, headband. Everything able to be zipped down or shed should the sun and the heat of running require it. I was really happy because my tiny Swarovski binoculars were finally back from repair. I’m so tough on binoculars. The bridge hinge was broken again, and they were badly out of alignment, too. That's what hundreds of miles of shaking will do. But this morning they were back and good as new. I saw a little head poking out of the grass on a high bank and with the binocs it resolved to an Eastern meadowlark. I reveled in the view, after so many runs without binoculars. Next up was a singing field sparrow, then three more meadowlarks and a displaying red-winged blackbird. I was so happy to see my friends up close again.

I saw some pineapple tops in the cow pasture and knew that the Harrises were tossing them out as treats for their Herefords. I smiled. I've seen pumpkins and apples in the same spot. I've fed pears to them here, too. 

I went to see one of my shadow barns, and I thought as I walked up how nice it would be to see Chet Baker’s little shadow on that warm red wood. All right, I couldn’t see him any more, but what if his shadow were to appear?

I could feel him near. Oh, how I miss seeing him, touching him. I’d have to settle for knowing his spirit was near. That’s something, but today it wasn’t enough. I heaved a big sigh. It was OK to miss him, but yearning wasn't something I could afford to indulge.

 I was going to stay happy this morning. I had my binoculars and somewhere to go. And nothing hurts when I run.  When you're my age, that's cause for celebration!

I was looking as I trotted along at the tufts of cow hair on the barbed wire to my right, thinking that if I could find one backlit, it’d be worth a shot. I caught a large dark shape out of the corner of my eye. It was a dog, a young Lab, and when I caught its eye it put its ears back and smiled. When I spoke to it, it tucked its tail and ran a little ways away.  "If you don't want me near you, I'll leave." Not afraid, just polite. So I averted my eyes, turned away and sat down on the side of the road, presenting the smallest profile I could. Soon enough it crept up and gingerly but neatly slipped under the barbed wire to come closer to me. As I watched, I thought, “This dog knows its way around barbed wire. This is a country dog. It's done this before."

Once it decided I was no threat, the dog held its tail high and moved with confidence. Soon I was stroking it and rubbing its sides. I had thought it was a male from its high- carried tail and commanding presence, but a quick check showed it to be a female. Hmm. What an interesting dog. She seemed very happy to see me, a bit hungry, but by no means frantic or questing. Still, I was concerned. She wore a faded pink collar that had probably started out red. Her rabies tag was broken in half—no help in identifying her. I shook my head. You have a dog that can run for miles, and you don't put a viable ID tag on her collar? That’s what collars and tags are FOR. Then I laughed at myself. I'm one to talk. Until he lost his hearing, Chet never even wore a collar. But then he never went anywhere without me, either.

 The only other clue on the collar was a transponder, probably for an invisible fence. Data into the Situational Awareness processor.  It suggested to me that her escape was a jailbreak, that she was well-enough cared for to be kept inside a pricey electronic fence. Her glossy coat and shining eyes spoke of good food and good care. Her kindness and manners said that she'd been treated with love. She was not a dropoff, I decided, though Lord knows this is the kind of place people drop off unwanted animals. I’d just live-trapped a tomcat last week, clearly deposited in my turnaround to help reduce the avian population at that hippie lady’s bird sanctuary.

I was still gathering data. I sniffed her ruff. It smelled of stale winter house interior. This wasn’t a hunting dog; she was a house pet who had been let out just this morning. She wasn’t far from home. Her home-smell still clung to her.  For her part, she was gathering information on me. She knew I hadn’t had breakfast yet, either. I smelled of fresh air. She knew I was a ways from my home.

 I looked at her and decided I’d do whatever it took to reunite her with her owners.  It didn't matter how long it took. But first, she’d have to come along on my run. I knew without even asking that she would take me up on the offer. She'd already decided, too. At this point there was a great deal of nonverbal communication flying between us. It was electrifying. I hadn’t had a chance to speak dog for ever so long. To look, to sniff, to deduce, to exchange thought pictures. Dogs can get us in touch with that which is essential within us: Our senses, quite apart from our thoughts.
 As I'd guessed, she was only too happy to come along. Her tail waved like a flag as she rocketed along dozens to hundreds of yards in front. We had forged an instant human/canine contract, an agreement to stay loosely together this beautiful morning. I'd keep her safe, and she'd keep me company.

I aimed to get off the county road as soon as possible, to turn down the dirt road.


It was truly extraordinary to see a black inkblot on the landscape in front of me again.
To aim my camera at it and fire away.


I needed to call her something. "Roma" popped into my head, because she was roaming, for sure.  Roma she'd be, for the duration of our run.

Just like Chet used to, she'd stop periodically to look back and check on me, and then she'd double back. Three times she snuck up on me from behind, having made a huge circle around me. Each time she surprised me, I laughed. What a fun, interesting companion.

I called her, to see what would happen. Heah, Roma!!

She came back for all the world as if Roma were her name.

There was such a connection between us, it was as if I'd known her before. I had to wonder who had sent this wonderful dog to me this fine, fine morning. 

I wanted one thing, and that was to sit on a sunny hillside, where I used to sit with Chet, and gaze down into the valley below.

Roma thought that was an excellent plan. She was so excited to be out and about that she made about twenty circles around me as I sat and emptied my mind.

She had a prey drive that would do a cheetah proud. She dug, rooted, sniffed, watched. This dog was going to go away knowing something. It was awe-inspiring, and a bit unsettling. I'd become used to Chet, who in his later years kept mostly to the road or trail, and was happy to let most animals pass on by with just a word of caution from me. At one point on our run she spotted two distant deer I'd been praying she wouldn't see, and she bounded down the road to give chase. Ye gods, the eyesight and hearing on this animal! A sharp shout from me, and she stopped and stood to watch them run. Good dog. That told me she'd had some training. She was listening, even as she orbited. What a good girl.

And then, glory be, she flopped down to join me, rolled in the grass, and relaxed for a moment. That was all I'd ever wanted: just to be in the company of a dog again. To look at the landscape over the head of a good dog.

 She was the most interesting color. Not black, but deep seal-brown, like someone I loved so dearly. A seal-brown angel.

I'm so happy to meet you, Roma. Wherever you're from, whatever it takes, we'll get you home. Until then you and I are friends. Friends for a glorious hour or two.  


There was a perfection about her I couldn't take my eyes off. A lot of dog, with a lot of potential, and brains, too. Not camera-shy, as so many dogs are. Willing to be looked at and photographed.

Not dopey in the least. Not overbearing or obnoxious. Noble. Nobility is hard to find in dogs these days. So few people seem to be willing to work with their dogs to bring it out. This dog clearly came equipped with it, and had had some training. She had dignity.

Her light lemon eyes look a little crazy, but they're not. They reminded me of a lion's eyes.


Also a good dry-kisser. She planted a couple on my cheek. Yep, Roma had it all.

On our way back, she checked out the Toothless Lady. Oh, the memories. Chet used to walk a little gangplank into that collapsing barn. He drove me nuts. I'd writhe until he re-emerged from the rubble, so afraid he'd drop through what was left of the floor. Once he even went up into the haymow!! Arrrgh!! I watched helplessly as he climbed the stairs, could hear his footsteps up there, with me down below, afraid he'd run into a nest of coons or squirrels and lose his head. Terrible. Finally he came back down the rickety stairs with a look that said, "You worry too much."

Roma promised not to scare me like that. This dog has sense. Chet did too. He was just overconfident. A highwire walker.

Roma's Lab came out full bore when she found a ditch full of ice-coated water. It couldn't have been 25 degrees, but that dog broke the ice with playful slaps of her paws and LAY DOWN in the water!!

Oh how I laughed!

She was so cute I had to make some videos.


 See what I mean about her carriage? She's got presence.

Imagine loving to be in water so much that you lie down in it on a subfreezing morning.  I love the redwings singing in the background of this next video.


I knew our two-hour idyll had to end soon. As we neared home my mind was working through lots of scenarios. I'd stop at the most likely place and ask. If Roma wasn't theirs, I'd take her on home and call the dog warden. I'd offer to keep her until someone came forward. I knew someone was missing this wonderful dog already.

I stopped at the driveway to the house where I thought she lived and watched her carefully. She trotted up the driveway, betraying little anticipation. My neighbor came out on her porch saying, "You found my buddy!" A flood of relief washed over me. Thank goodness!

Roma turned to me and smiled and wagged. Their other dog, Dozer, who I knew from years of running past him, put his paws in my hands and looked up at me. I was so happy to have guessed right about where she belonged. Their owner explained to me that Roma had recently taken to roaming, willing to take the shock from her collar for the adventure that followed beyond.

I'd be that dog.

A new collar "for stubborn dogs" was on order. It would have a 9-volt battery. I winced inwardly, but kept my reaction in check. Not mine to judge. Everyone has a different way with their dog. I'd been lucky to live 2/3 mile off the dangerous county road. And Chet was nobody's wanderer. He wanted to go wherever I went, period. If Mether was home, so was Chet, and that was that. He wouldn't even go out the driveway to get the mail with someone else if I wasn't along. Roma, on the other hand, is built to run all day. She lives right on a dip in the main county road, and people regularly hit 65 mph going down that hill. Her owners don't want her wandering at quitting time when everybody's rocketing back from town to their home in the hills, too many with a Bud Light already in hand. I get it.

Now came the moment I'd been waiting for. "What is her name?"


I gasped. Could I have come much closer, with my made-up name? No wonder she came when I called her! There's something going on here. My little voice had been listening hard, knowing things.

Ah, Remy. What joy you brought me, just being your loose, wild, untamed, jail-busting self. A dog with no use for obedience training, for leashes or collars. A dog who is no annex of any human, a dog who is nothing but herself. This dog runs and hunts and digs and splashes and savors every inch of the landscape, 100% alive, 100% animal, 100% grateful to be outside on her own.

But on this morning, she chose to be with me.

Remy, whoever sent you to me, whatever spirit moved you to follow me down and give me a hit of your grace and humor and beauty, I thank most humbly.

Perhaps we'll run again someday.


Oh Julie, this post just about burst my heart! I think your neighbor would be happy to have you take Remy for daily runs, and you know Remy would love it. In your head shots of her, I see a hint of Weimaraner; I wonder if I'm right?

What a grand story! ...I think Jung might have something to say about this.

So happy she made your day & ours!!

What a sweet story. It brought back so many memories of my Chocolate Lab, Mishka. We walked many a miles together. He would make gigantic circles around me but always coming back when I called. Or even coming when least expected as when a jogger was about to pass me, me not noticing the jogger was even around and Mishka ran up beside me with that 'presence' that stated you don't mess with my lady. After the jogger passed Mishka went on his merry way yet keeping an eye on me. And no, there wasn't a shock collar that would keep him in any confinement. He could scale 6'fences. What a dog. What memories. Thank you. I am glad you got to experience the grand company of a Lab.

Tears streaming down my face, what a wonderful post, and I’m pretty sure Chet had something to do with your new friend��

Oh Julie --I was right there with you as you and Remy got to know each other on your run--tears streaming down my face. What a wonderful morning you two had. I know there was a reason, a connection, beyond what we will ever know for certain, though there's a feeling there. Thank you for sharing with us.

Maybe the universe is saying, "It's time..."

So wonderful, happy for you and for us by your sharing. ♥

I got a little misty reading this ... such a sucker for wonderful Lab tales.

Just beautiful.

I hope the two of you keep in touch, and maybe go on runs now and again. There's no reason why what we call "friends" should be confined to our own species.

Posted by Anonymous March 24, 2018 at 5:22 PM

Awe...this just melts my heart.
Thanks for sharing this awesome experience!!!

What a day, what a dog, what a connection! I like the others' idea of her being your running buddy; it could be safer for her and a comfort for you. No matter how it all plays out, it was a momentous romp. Thanks for sharing. Kim in PA

Well, I’m crying, Julie! Thanks a lot! But, really, such beautiful writing — I do thank you.

In common with others, I'm hoping that you might be able to reach an arrangement with Remy's owner to take Remy for runs, if that works for you both. (My husband and I decided after our last dog crossed the bridge 9 years ago not to get another one, for various reasons, but we happily walk the neighbors' darling Australian shepherd for them at noon on days when neither of them can be home.) And the Remy/Roma name business is uncanny. In fact, the whole story is uncanny. Thanks as always for sharing.

What a story! Thank you for letting us go on your walk and enjoy time with Roma/Remy. Great pictures and videos too.

What a beautiful story, Julie. This was a gift from Providence for sure and I'll bet Chet was watching with joy and pleasure. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. As I'm writing this, one of our cats, Benji , is nuzzling me for love and attention (very persistently) and he doesn't ask for much so I'm going to share a little love. Glad you were able to receive some good stuff from Remy and shared your walk with her.

Posted by Anonymous March 26, 2018 at 12:13 PM

I love this story. It was "beshert" -- yiddish for "meant to be." Sweet in every way.

Just have to pass this along: I walk around my neighborhood a couple of times each day and have made friends with all the cats along the way. One very ‘wide-bodied’ black cat I made friends with I regularly called “Chunk,” which to my surprise he seemed to respond to. Today, I finally ran into his owner and asked what the cat’s real name was… turned out it was “Huck.”

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