He was just a dog. I had five of my own at the time. I took care of hundreds at the boarding kennel that I worked at. My boss went down to New Orleans to assist in the animal rescue effort after Hurricane Katrina. She came back with a dozen or so homeless dogs that had people waiting in Vermont to offer them homes. But when they arrived, two of them got passed over. No one was there waiting to bring them home. So they came to board at the kennel. They came with names, General the red Chow Chow and Brindle Beauty the Cattle Dog mix. The two boys were skinny and shaggy, excited and anxious, undoubtedly confused and quite possibly traumatized by the events they had witnessed. Both boys were adult dogs over the age of five, very heart worm positive and not neutered. I remember the exact moment when they arrived at the kennel.
Nancee, my boss came flying in behind two fully extended leashes and by the open bathroom door where I had a dog in my lap that had gotten the tip of his ear torn in play and for the life of me I could not get it to stop bleeding, despite heroic efforts. I had used pressure and then ice. I would get quick stop to clot it and would get it to dry and then the dog would, with one shake of their head, slap that split ear straight onto their skull and the bleeding would start again. It was a futile effort but I was on all fours and fully committed when the two Katrina refugees came into the Pet Lodge. Two smiling faces flew past me and then red and blue brindle coats streaked by and Nancee called out as they caught sight of me for a moment, "we want you, Keri", insinuating of course that I would be the lucky foster home that they were promised, and I remember calling back in response, "I don't need you"...how wrong I was. Six years later, that Brindle Beauty, named Bayou, is a part of my life that I couldn't live without.
I did resist at first. I did already have a pack of five dogs and the latest rescue was proving to be the most challenging yet. I tried to ignore fate. But there he was, staring me in the face everyday and acting, from day one, like I was HIS. I may not have chosen him, but he picked me out right away. He started outside in a separate yard with his rescue buddy, General the Chow. I would go out in the adjacent social daycare yard to tend to that pack and Bayou would leap up at the gate and very clearly tell me that he wanted out. Then I noticed General, who was slightly shorter than Bayou but already stockier and clearly a little younger and more dominant, starting to pick on him. He would try to provoke an altercation and Bayou would do everything he could to avoid him. And he also continued to ask me, "please, let me out of this yard". And so, as it was my job to do so, I listened to what the dog was telling me and I let him out. He showed immediately that even in this social yard which happened to be comprised of the youngest, highest energy dogs, he would be just fine. Bayou blended in and accepted this pack. The following morning when I entered that yard, Bayou greeted me enthusiastically, jumping up on me and planting big wet kisses on my lips. He wagged and strutted around like he finally had what he wanted in life. And Bayou repeated this song and dance every time I went out in that yard and he never gave anyone else the time of day. It was like he only had eyes for me. That is, of course, what ended my hesitation in bringing yet a sixth dog into my home, into my pack, into my life, with the promise of forever.
Bayou endured two painful heart worm treatments for his awful infection, was neutered and never suffered a day of poor health for years to follow. He never for a moment took for granted the gift of his second chance at life. He wasn't even recovered after the Hurricane until late October. He lived for months in what could only have been unlivable conditions. He braved the threat of catastrophe, chaos, death and unending struggle to get to live again. He never wanted for anything after he was saved in rescue and gave to me the life affirming gift of being truly chosen. Until our last day together, we were never apart. He will live in our hearts forever.
I have lost dogs that made me feel like I lost a child, like I could never recover. But with Bayou, it is different. It was always different with Bayou. He never asked me for anything, except for my company. After becoming a part of my pack, he was always just there to be a harmonious part of whatever I did, without hesitation or fail. He never needed a leash and always both protected me from what he perceived as a threat, which lessened over time with his newfound stability, and always accepted who was a part of my life and offered them the same single devotion while they were there. Bayou came to me a mature dog, his human years equalling more than mine at the time. In his life he has saw more than me, survived more than I have ever been asked to survive and even travelled farther in the country than I have. He was always wiser and more sure of everything that came in our life together. He lived in three homes with me and with more dogs than he could have ever imagined. He knew adventure and travel, family and friends, he knew pack and home and territory of wide open green fields and pastures, rushing streams, lakes, mountains and several warm sun spots. Bayou knew five to eight years of a much rougher life I could only imagine before he chose me. I feel like when I lost Bayou, that I lost that special unspoken bond that he knew we had before I was willing to see it. He came to me with that magic and never required even a reminder as to his role. He knew. I lied when I first met him. I did need him all along.