This listener essay is by Leslie Sittner. She began writing five years ago with her dog, Porsche, as her creative muse, especially on their daily and nightly walks. Her muse was recently put to rest at 17 ½ years old.
“Oh my God! Porsche! Oh my God!” I shriek as I watch my 14 year-old schnauzer’s back legs slip over the edge, then the rest of her falls backwards off the eroded bank directly down into the turbid water of the Kayaderosseras Creek. I’m still screaming as I get to the edge and look down. The woodland path we’ve been walking has washed away to be only 10” wide due to the unusual torrential spring and summer rains. It’s straight down. Straight down with no opportunity for purchase and she’s frantically racing around at the bottom trying to figure out what to do.
Porsche was our rescue dog 13 years ago. Over time she’s learned to love and trust despite her abusive beginnings. After my husband died suddenly five years ago, she became my grief supervisor; she rescued me. She’s the reason I get up in the morning; she’s the reason we walk in a different nature preserve or park every day. We protect, sustain, and comfort each other. When she experienced a heart anomaly which required a pacemaker, cost was no object. My husband would have approved. She’s my steadfast companion. I can’t imagine what I’d do without her.
I kick into survival mode. I quickly observe that, fortunately, the water is consistently shallow―only up to her shoulders and it’s not raging along this curving section of the creek as it normally is. She’s looking up at me with terror-eyes. I’m screaming intentionally now, not reflexively, so that hopefully the two fishermen we passed on the beach will hear me, notice the situation and run the path to help. I can’t see them. They must have moved upstream.
She’s still attached to the retractable leash that I have a death grip on. But it’s now getting tangled in the bare roots protruding from the bank. I make out that twenty feet away there’s a section of shallow rocky creek bed but I can’t get to it either from the path or by climbing down the bank which is completely vertical and eight feet high. Instantly I decide to just pull her up vertically while gradually retracting the leash hoping she can use her feet to claw up the muddy cliff face so I can grab her collar. In the next instant I worry about choking her or ripping out the subcutaneous pacemaker wires that are in her neck. But I go for it anyway. Miraculously her leash is untangled at this moment so I shorten it to make her face up to me; shorten it again so she’s standing on her back legs with her front legs in the air. Then I pull all 40 pounds of her straight up with all four of her legs running in air. And over the lip of the bank she scrambles. We’re both shaking. I got my girl back.
This has been the longest two minutes of my life.
I stand there trying to regain my senses and let my heart slow down while Porsche shakes off the water and mud. She appears ready to continue. “How’re you doing Sweetie-Girl,” I croon in my doggy-talking voice even though she’s mostly deaf. I stroke all over her curly black hair searching for any injury or wounds. I feel the pacemaker wires to see if I can determine if they’re disengaged or broken. Then I watch to make sure she’s not acting unbalanced. She seems ready to go. I’m not sure I am.
We proceed very slowly. With my eyes focused on her and the terrain, I’m careful to keep her on my left side away from the edge. The next thing I know CRACK! I’m on my rear end in the dirt, still holding the leash and dazed. What the…? I literally don’t know what hit me. Suddenly I hear people behind me and three teenagers appear from the other direction and ask, “M’am, what happened? Are you OK? Can we help you?”
A bit dizzy, I mumble, “Yes, thank you, help me get up, please”. That’s when I look up to glimpse the large oak tree that had fallen across the path. I’d run into with my head and cold-cocked myself. I hadn’t even seen it. Strange. I must have noticed it on the way in and ducked under it.
I’m a little embarrassed and tell the kids that I’m fine and to go on ahead. Then for the second time I’m playing doctor-in-the-woods. I feel my head for a bump or abrasions. Nothing. But new worries taunt my mind as we walk slowly through the woods. Recent warnings about the dangers of concussions experienced by athletes flood my consciousness.
By the time we reach the car Porsche seems to be fine. She’s actually strutting. I’m relieved and grateful. For me, all I can think of is, boy, will my head, butt, and back be sore tomorrow. But maybe I should take myself to the ER now just in case. No. I can’t do that. What if something is really wrong? What then?
Who will rescue my dog?