Fighting forces stronger than we are

Walking Annie on a harness isn’t working. Yesterday she dragged me down the jetty trail. When we finally got home, she trampled me running out of the car after a cat. I’m a mess of bruises today.

It was a rare sunny day, but the tides were high and I didn’t want to risk the beach, so we went to Newport’s south jetty. It would turn out to be an ironic choice because a tragedy was unfolding as we walked.

Annie was pulling on me from the get-go. The bright blue harness did little to deter her as she splashed through puddles that reflected the blue sky and late-afternoon clouds. As we left the road to walk the Old Jetty Trail, she pulled even harder, so hard I wished I could just let her go. I didn’t know if she’d ever come back. As soon as the trail narrowed to a sandy path flanked by Scotch broom up to my shoulders, she pulled me along so hard I had no choice but to follow or let go. I outweigh her by nearly a hundred pounds, but it doesn’t matter. When she pulls, her strength is at least equal to my power.

We were blinded by the sun for a long way, but I had seen police cars and an ambulance near the end of the jetty. A red Coast Guard helicopter circled overhead. I wondered what was going on, but Annie was pulling so hard we never got to the beach. Later I learned that they were looking for a man and woman who had been washed off the jetty. They had parked their bikes on the sand and walked out to the end of the jetty to see the high waves, which I’ve heard estimated everywhere from 20 to 40 feet high. A man at the Yaquina Bay lighthouse saw them go out. Then a huge wave engulfed them. When it receded, they were gone. That was about 1 p.m. The woman’s body was found at 1:13, but at sunset, they were still looking for the man. According to news reports, they were from Portland, visiting the coast to celebrate their wedding anniversary. One minute of foolishness, and they lost their lives, as so many have here in our wild ocean.

We all do foolish things that can change—or end—our lives in a moment.

It doesn’t compare to what happened to that couple, but I was engaged in my own foolishness with a dog I couldn’t control.

Annie knew nothing of what was happening on the jetty. She was hearing sea lions, their barks somehow funneled from the bay down the trail so that they sounded as if they were nearby. She pulled and pulled, trying to escape the unseen enemy.

When we finally got back on the paved road, she pulled even harder, tail between her legs, trying to get away from the water. As I struggled to hold her and make progress toward where I had left the car, I started to worry because I couldn’t see my car. I became more and more afraid that my silver box of a Honda, which had just been serviced and washed that morning, was gone, along with my wallet, GPS, various other electronic devices, CDs, books, and yoga gear. There I was in my old shoes with just my cell phone, keys, poop bag, used Kleenex, and my freaked-out dog. What would I do if my only vehicle was gone? Meanwhile, Annie was trying to pull me back toward the trail, and it was getting dark.

At last my car appeared far in the distance behind a pole. Thank God. I had underestimated how far we had walked. When we got to it, I opened the back and sat on the tailgate dangling my legs. Annie, feeling braver now, wanted to go exploring. Not a chance. We weren’t walking another step. But our adventure was not over yet.

Back at home, as I was opening my car door, I saw the neighbor’s gray tabby cat in the blackberries three feet away, staring at me. I should have just let it be. Maybe Annie wouldn’t have seen it, but no. I yelled, “Get out of here, cat.” He ran, and the dog saw him. I had the leash in my left hand and tried to hold her back in the car with my whole body, but she was stronger. She trampled over me and streaked across the driveway, pulling me hard to the left while I screamed, “No!” I considered letting her go, but didn’t want her to hurt the neighbor’s cat. In retrospect, she probably wouldn’t have caught it, but at the time I felt I had no choice. I stopped her, but just barely. Afterward, there I was hanging off the edge of the driver’s seat, hurting all over, my back feeling as if it had been twisted like a wad of aluminum foil. For a nanosecond, I considered getting rid of my dog. But of course, I was soon petting her and telling her I loved her again.

Clearly the harness is not working. We have tried a three-point harness, then a four-point, and a variety of collars in our effort to transform Annie into an official therapy dog. I hate to go back to the pronged collar because it’s tight and rusty, and therapy dogs aren’t allowed to wear them. Nor can they wear choke chains. So what do I do now?

Another person in the therapy dog group had told me about a book called My Dog Pulls by Turid Rugaas. It worked with her golden retriever. Rugaas preaches a system of rewards and training by stopping every time the dog pulls. I have already discovered that screaming “No!” “Stop!” “Don’t pull!” and “Damn it!” doesn’t work. In a tug of war with Annie, it’s a tie at best. I have ordered the book. We’re going to try a new system. Stay tuned to see how it works.

Meanwhile, we’re not walking today. Blame it on the rain. I can’t let 74 pounds of muscle and fur put me in the hospital. I just got back from the chiropractor, and my body needs a break. We have six months until the next therapy dog evaluation. We can do all the other requirements. We can do this. Your advice is welcome.

And dear God, please take care of those people who died on the jetty today. The waves don’t kid around. You can’t fight a force that is bigger than you, whether it’s the sea or a stubborn dog. Please, if you want to watch the waves, do it from somewhere safe. My bruises will heal, but those people are gone.

Author: Sue Fagalde Lick

writer/musician California native, Oregon resident Author of Freelancing for Newspapers, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams, Stories Grandma Never Told, Childless by Marriage, and Up Beaver Creek. Most recently, I have published two poetry chapbooks, Gravel Road Ahead and The Widow at the Piano: Confessions of a Distracted Catholic. I have published hundreds of articles, plus essays, fiction and poetry. I'm also pretty good at singing and playing guitar and piano.

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