Transylvanian Mountain Dog
by S. Hagan Jones
I often wonder with our relationship, who rescued whom? Before bringing you home from the pound, I never realised how restricted I was, as a woman, to stroll my own streets after dark. I had forgotten that night walks were even an option. I had long since abandoned the idea of outdoors after dusk being a safe space for the likes of me. This fear was so ingrained that I simply stayed in. I tell you this and it seems to amuse you, because you wag and insist we go out exploring by night. You show me the way.
I discover a world of owl hoots and moonlit canals. Of walking into blackness and surviving. Of feeling the fear but doing it anyway. You may feel restricted on my lead, but I feel a new found freedom with you there. I no longer walk with keys jutting from my knuckles, nor do I consider weaponising at all, because I am with you.
If we walk towards a hooded gang, they scatter like crows, or cross the road. They just want somewhere to hang out, presumably, but I wouldn’t have dreamt of forging a path through their huddle without your confident stride pulling me forward.
Sometimes one will call over, ‘Hey love, what kind of dog is that?!’
‘Bit of a shepherd,’ I beam, which is genuine, but I mention it because of the guard dog connotations. I always add, ‘crossed with something fast, like a whippet.’ Also true. What a package you are.
If anyone gets too close at night, you sense my tension and up go your hackles. You look mangy like this, your street-dog roots on display. Once, you bared your teeth at a lad until he scarpered. They don’t know you’re as scared of strange men as I am. They do know you’re more likely to bite than I.
Others keep a respectful distance, skirting the invisible forcefield of my wild protector. They nod respectful frowns, seeming impressed. Sometimes they say, ‘Fuck that, I’m crossing over!’ and their mates giggle at them as they bundle themselves to the furthest reaches of their own pack, dropping their vapes in the process.
We walk on. I smile and keep my head high. You leave a clear path in my wake. I don’t protest your powers or promise you’ll do no harm. They don’t need to know what a teddy you are behind closed doors.
Back at home, we lay on the linoleum together. I am teaching you to trust treats. I admire that you shun anything processed. I buy you dairy products despite being unable to consume them myself. You eagerly lap them up.
Look at you now, my love. All velvet ears and tummy rubs. I certainly never meant to adopt one as tall as this, but when you pressed your paw to the perspex, I’d already fallen.
You lay with your ears alert: listening for intruders, or delivery drivers, or those pesky squirrels. We’ll catch them one day, darling.
You originally hail from the streets of Romania, where lanky lurchers like you apparently proliferate. Your pet passport says ‘Breed: Common’, which makes me scoff because you are truly unique. So full of eastern promise. With your long limbs, fabulous mane and kohl-rimmed almond eyes, I call you my eastern-European supermodel. My beautiful brown-eyed girl. You sigh at these repeated compliments.
These foreign dogs eh, coming over ’ere, stealing our hearts.
I comb you and listen to your exhalations lengthening, feeling my own pulse soften to slowness. I am hypnotised by your fur: a swirling marvel of fawn, gold and buttermilk cream, cresting to black tinges. A paintbrush white-tip tail. A paw that fits perfectly in my palm.
Such is the rich mixture of your heritage, that your gene pool is wide. It captures the strength of all your ancestors. Yours are genes honed for harsh winter survival and evolved for begging at bins. You are hardy and patient. Unlike me, you are never ill.
Were you frightened, my love, on the journey overseas? Did you have hope in the dark? Did you know that you’d have all the sustenance and support you could ever want, when you finally reached the other side?
“I discover a world of owl hoots and moonlit canals. Of walking into blackness and surviving. Of feeling the fear but doing it anyway. You may feel restricted on my lead, but I feel a new found freedom with you there.”
I think of your journey across currently closed borders. You have come a long way on your travels and seen more of the continent than most. Your EU passport is battered from use, chock-full of all the vaccines you needed, its yellow stars lighting the way to me.
I fictionalise your imagined history. Bounding across from the Carpathian Mountains and into my soul. I picture you as a scrawny pup taken from your street-mother, back before the pound, before your foster family, back to the shelter in Vii?oara – in real life Transylvania. I think of your thawing paws there, that whole winter without walls, as I watch you now, cradling your stuffed penguin in our home. You have folded yourself so blissfully into my life. You seem so settled now. So happy to be indulged. Yielding to my endless fuss.
Your journey inspires hope. Hope of holding out for a better, gentler life, rich with love and lactose. It speaks of light at the end of any tunnel. Of daring to dream of companions not yet known, of envisaging future adventures, whilst meanwhile resting, as we hibernate and wait. It’s a lesson we all need of late.
My working days are virtual and quiet: only the click of keys and the company of your gentle snores soothe me through the day. Your paws subconsciously paddle the air in your daydreams of escapism. You show me the importance of rest, in readiness for the next chance to play. You snooze, you win.
Your eyes sparkle with understanding. You know what I need, and it isn’t to stare at a screen all day. You allow me my working hours, it keeps you in tinned tripe after all, but you possess a body-clock sense of the end of the working day. The laptop clicks shut and if my wellies aren’t on within minutes, you start to stretch flamboyantly in front of me with a huff and glare. You nudge my phone from my hand, and out we go.
We frolic through each season. You show me the marvel of every slight change: crunchy leaves, deep snows, budding blooms. We climb hills, when we can. Your four legs are quicker than my two, so you race on ahead and wait for me at the summit. Majestically you survey your new kingdom, checking the coast is clear. I scramble after you: always inspired to push my fitness further than I ever would alone.
By day, we talk to more strangers than I ever have before. You are the ice-breaking talking-point of my dreams. You rekindle a shared connection with others. In inviting comments on you, people feel able to tell me about themselves too; perhaps about pets they have loved and lost, or who else it is they are missing right now. It serves a reminder, as we all go about our days, that everyone is just trying to make it through, to inject joy where they can, and embrace a bit of nature alongside our confinement.
People stop me, perplexed, ‘What kinda dog is that?’ Sometimes I proffer a guess – ‘Saluki-Shepherd cross’ – or I make up a breed, like ‘Transylvanian Mountain Dog’, which you sort of are; or I smile and say, ‘a marvellous mongrel’ for that’s true too.
I sketch your form on napkins. I doodle your full name in the margins of my notepad. You linger in my Zoom meeting background. I write this soppy ode to your very existence. I sweep your fur into bundles for the bin, and you don’t mind my repeated joke that I could sell them for great profit to a haberdashery. You’ve heard it before, but still give me your full attention. Always present. Always listening. Always living in the moment, Zen master.
You sniff my book, querying, why on earth would I stare at the same musty block of papers for hours on end? Your tail swooshes in front of the TV news, flagging me to switch it off, sensing that it stiffens and saddens me. This reminds me to stay lighthearted, that all this too will pass, like the flick of a tail.
Some days I plan to just bury myself in your ruffled neck and only come up for air when this is all over. But we can’t, you remind me, we must go out. Come rain, come shine, come PMT, come feeling down time. We’ve got scents to trace and adventure awaits.
You relish in the local, finding new escapades at every turn. You show me that lockdown life needn’t be boring, especially when there is so much to explore, right here, together. You make me love where I live. You teach me that there is no need to fly faraway to have fun, when adventures are right here on our doorstep, in fields and forests, on the River Irwell banks and back ginnels, under railway bridges and along dried-out streams. They’re all waiting to be explored: we just need to sniff them out.
You embrace each outing with renewed enthusiasm, with a delight and gratitude that humbles me. You treat every walk like it is the first, or the last.
Lola the rescue dog: lockdown lifeline, saviour, muse; protector, teacher, conspirator, confidante, comfort blanket; my in-house entertainer, my personal trainer. You are grateful for everything we have and teach me that we need little more.
Thank you, my love.