The first part of this post is here.
There’s something about a destination you’d rather not reach that makes it seem closer than you’d expected.
It was so damn sunny.
It was beautiful, really, and Illinois, if you don’t know it, is a very flat rolling state with lots of corn and long open roads. The trip was about two hours and the turnoff was as close to a dirt road as road come without being made from dirt.
Hung a right onto gravel and everything looked familiar. It’d been eighteen months.
A year and a half earlier I’d been in the same spot and driven home with this little thing of a puppy who I picked over his sister because he’d been so confident about climbing down a step. He’d been the size of my forearm then. He barely fit in the passenger seat now.
Half a mile up was Vizsla Lane, where Linda and Jim raised supermodel dogs on a 200 acre farm. I turned down the lane.
I idled…idled…the last mile into the compound.
The farm was Mother Nature’s sketchbook come alive; crows and rabbits and hawks and quail and dogs and chickens and people everywhere. The state-of-the-art dog-run kennel housed fourteen pups. The house dog, a mutt the size of a handbag, strolled the front yard wondering why all these other dogs looked the same. There were golden Hungarian yippers everywhere and Branner was really just trying to keep his brain in his skull.
I’d called just two weeks prior. The look on Linda’s face this morning reflected the excitement I’d heard when I called, asking if I might find Branner a new home. Her reaction was overjoyed; she’d always wondered how he’d turned out, and his sister and mother were both wonderful, champion caliber dogs. She told me that she unequivocally thought he’d be a treasure in the fields, and that their fields were a home for him indefinitely.
And here I was. Fourteen days later.
There’s one way to remove a bandaid.
We all learn that.
My arrival was an event. Everyone in every cage wanted to meet Branner, and he…well…imagine winning the lottery but they pay you with friends. Best friends.
Jim asked me to stay, and he asked me to ride with him on the tractor as we took a three mile long loop around their fields. He told me, “let him off that leash…he’s not gonna need it anymore“.
I responded, “um…we may never see him again”.
Jim’s quiet confidence painted a subtle smile; he grabbed the collar and snapped it off.
“That dog could make it to Wisconsin and still be able to smell us. If he doesn’t come to you, it’s not because he doesn’t know where you are.”
We bumped and rolled out into a field the size of ten football fields covered in six foot stalks of corn and brush, and Branner went nothing short of apeshit. I mean…he ran like he couldn’t believe himself. He ran…no…he bounded through brush four times his height at full speed, almost looking down at his own legs and wondering if they could find another gear.
Every twenty minutes or so he’d pop out of the brush onto the tractor path and he’d stare me right in the eye and he’d thank me. He was completely transformed. It was the first time in his life that he’d had absolutely no boundary.
About an hour in, Branner came across our path and stabbed at a burrowing quail, sending it fluttering into the air for dear life.
Jim laughed. “Of the fourteen dogs back there, only one found a quail on the first run. And that was Branner’s sister.”
There’s something very unceremonious about giving up a dog. You’re surround by people, usually, and in my case another fourteen dogs. Back at the farmhouse, I gave a loving hug a few tries. The connection between Bran and his mother a few feet away was palpable. The distractions were intense. I kissed him, and I kissed him.
And we put him into a beautiful indoor-outdoor kennel complex with his sister, where they ran side by side in circles feeling one another out. They shared a bowl of water right in front of me.
I absently signed a piece of paper or two and I headed back out into the clean air, blue sky, and radiant sun.
My gut held tight, terrified of the idea that I might fully take in the loss I’d just put myself through.
It feels the same way right now, writing this. I can barely breathe.
It was, in fact, the last time I saw Branner.
Update: It seems this post has upset a few people who have convictions about dog ownership, which I understand. In writing this as a narrative I can see how it might sound a bit aloof with regards to the responsibility I took on when I got Branner. Your opinions are warranted, but please understand you don’t have a whole lot of context for the decision I made. If you look, you’ll notice that since the end of August I’ve written just ten posts aside from these two, not a one about my daily life. You’ll get context, I promise, but you don’t have it right now.
In addition, if I really have upset you please tell me. Don’t do so anonymously, I can take it. You are more right than wrong. Email me, if you’d rather not be negative here in the comments.