Dubious Boots

Zane’s a little wobbly in these boots, as if he’s not sure if we are playing a prank on him or not. They aren’t the most ergonomic walking devices around but the nice thing is that sloshing in a puddle doesn’t require an immediate change of socks.

Yesterday afternoon I went to look at a puppy. “Ringo,” pictured below, is from down south. It seems there’s a fairly active movement of abandoned dogs from down south to shelters up north. He’s a little on the skinny side with a bit of cough that they’ve started treatment for. We are hoping his health improves and will probably do a family visit tomorrow. Over the weekend we had another family dog-finding trip that didn’t go so well, which I’ve written about below.

Classified Ad: Beautiful puppies with a sweet disposition. These pups are very intelligent and willing learners as they are from a deliberate combination of four of the top ten breeds for obedience and working intelligence: Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Border Collie and Doberman. Good with other pets and children, wonderful companions $250. xxx-xxx-xxxx lv msg

Our last dog, Zeke, was adopted from the local Humane Society in the early nineties. We had visited the shelter on a whim, to see if there might be a dog that interested us, and after taking him for a walk were both convinced that he should come home with us. The only problem was we were going to a wedding three hundred miles away that weekend and taking a brand new, unknown dog was out of the question. The Humane Society didn’t reserve dogs, so we crossed our fingers and hoped he’d be there a couple days later.

On the drive back from the wedding we didn’t even stop at the house, but drove straight to the shelter to pick up Zeke. Best. Damn. Dog. Ever. Zeke lived with us for about thirteen years and died two weeks before Zane was born. It was an extremely sad time, but it was also as if he’d said, “You’ll have a new buddy now. Goodbye.”

Zane turns two in a couple of months and we’ve started thinking about getting a new dog. A puppy, so the two of them can grow up together. Zane loves dogs. Every time we are out and run across a dog he starts smiling, giggling, and wiggling in excitement. We live a little ways in the country with room for a dog to roam and have fun. This month we started scanning want ads and saw the ad re-printed above. Since Zeke was a black lab with, presumably, border collie mix it sounded like a good start. I had a doberman when I was younger and my brother is a long time shepherd fan. It sounded like a great mix. This weekend we decided to plan a family excursion to see the pups and maybe get a new dog.

Faith called the number on Saturday and the lady who answered made it clear that she was just a go-between. The man with the dogs worked Thurs, Friday, and Saturday nights but otherwise was available. Faith got detailed directions, but didn’t set a time. Sunday morning I called again to ensure that there was still a puppy and that coming around noon would be fine. She didn’t really seem to know, or at least didn’t provide a high level of confidence.

Eleven in the morning, Sunday, and we head out for the over one hour drive. The seller lives in Vermont. Judging from the directions a little out of the way in Vermont. Little did we know.

The drive is an hour of interstate, another five miles into a small town, and then another seven miles beyond that. At that point you turn onto a dirt road and start heading uphill. This is Spring in New England and dirt roads are renamed mud roads for the duration. The first mile wasn’t bad. Then the ruts started taking on depth and character. Our Prius, while equiped with snow tires, was having a bit of a time staying on the road. At the one mile mark our location seemed to diverge from the directions. We backtracked and asked for help, she said the house we had been by was our “go-between” lady. At that house they repeated the odd directions: go to top of hill, black truck and red jeep on left, follow trail into the woods.

With the road worsening we went on. We found the truck and Jeep, but no other house, which we were kind of expecting from the directions. Faith wanted to ask at another house further down the road, but it looked abandoned. I was developing an intuition that we should just leave.

The black truck, parked off the road a few feet, was running. Inside a man in tattered clothes was sleeping.

This part of Vermont is not Ben & Jerry’s Vermont. It’s low income, even poverty level living. Houses are dilapitated, cars rotting in yards, and the towns are small and far between. It looked like our dog owner might be at an even lower income level.

Against my instincts we didn’t leave. Instead I approached the truck and discretely knocked on the window. I could see that the person was alive but there wasn’t any response to the knock. About that time a young man in a 4×4 truck came up the hill. I asked about the guy with dogs for sale and he reiterated that there was a path across the field and up the hill into a copse of trees. I asked if the guy owned the black truck, since someone was sleeping in it. He didn’t know.

Remember in horror films they always say, “let’s split up!” and you shout at the screen “don’t do it!” Given our situation I suggested to Faith that she and the baby stay in the car while I follow the path uphill and try to find the dog seller. She vetoed it, saying “don’t split up!”

That’s how we found ourselves trekking across a snow and manure spread field in mid-March, a fairly active snow storm splattering us with flakes and a definitive “I’ve got a bad feeling about this…” vibe.

Matching with the scant directions we started hearing dog barking once we’d been in the woods a while. We couldn’t see a house but the noise assured us we were on the right path. The reason we didn’t see a house was that there wasn’t one. There were the remains of a very small RV (something a Pinto could tow) and an equally sized plywood house, neither of which would be tall enough to stand in.

The dogs were scattered among the woods and each seemed to have a small plywood shelter, but I didn’t get close enough to really confirm this. They were all barking and there were a half dozen of them dotting the snow-scape. Looking at them the “four breeds” started making more sense, the collection of barking dogs was all over the map, not a single pure breed in the mix. Yeah, sure, at some point this one might have been descended from a lab or shepherd or collie, but it wasn’t a recent lineage. No one answered our knocks nor our calls, just the persistent barking of dogs. Feeling more than a bit stupid for lugging a two year old into this setting we made our way back to the car.

We loaded up and headed out. I’m pretty sure the guy in the truck was the dog owner and that was his camp up on the hill. He probably had no heat up there and thus the sleeping in the running truck (although you’ve got to wonder how he could afford to do that). The disparity between the nicely worded ad and the reality of what we saw shook both of us. We felt sorry, and yet we never actually met or saw him. Two hundred and fifty bucks per puppy was probably a major boon to his finances, but what kind of dog would it be? We didn’t see any puppies and judging by the sires it would be a long, long way from the base four dogs listed in the ad.

We had a lot of things running through our heads on the way back and talked some of them over. Everything from whether we should report the guy to maybe we should have left him some money to help out. Not actually meeting him or the dogs it’s hard to say what the situation really is. The dogs could be his one love in the world with all of his extra money going into to caring for and breeding them.