The Comeback Dog
I had last Friday off because I was fighting on Saturday. At breakfast on Friday a kid from the camp came in and told me that it’s a pain when I’m not there for the morning run because there’s nobody to distract Pup – a camp dog who I have grown very close to – and he was chewing on everyone’s arms.
Andy was away all weekend and upon coming back to training on the day after my fight, Sunday, I figured Andy had taken Pup with him to Hill Camp because he wasn’t around. So on Monday when Andy had returned and I still hadn’t seen Pup, I asked if he’d been left at Hill Camp as punishment. Andy’s face turned very stern and he said, very curt, “No, Pup is gone.” What?! I had to pry and ask what had happened, thinking maybe they’d had to get rid of Pup for reasons of his awful behavior (he chews up the ring, tries to bury dead rats in the canvas, and probably would bite someone he didn’t know). But Andy said that he’d disappeared on Friday afternoon and nobody had seen him since. Pom (Andy’s wife) had called to ask if he’d taken Pup to Hill Camp on Saturday morning when they still hadn’t seen him.
I have a lot of affection for Pup. His acceptance of me was not freely offered or immediately won, so of course my bond to him included a level of respect for the wild creature within him. We’re both the “might bite” type and we played well together. He’d even become a good footwork sparring partner for me. The thought of him being gone made me instantly very sad and I felt strongly that he’d come back – maybe a dog was in heat somewhere and he’d ditched us to go hang around her for a while.
But Andy rejected that idea right away. He said that he suspected someone had stolen Pup to sell him, either as a pet because he is such a nice specimen of a dog and is healthy so he could fetch some good money, or the more terrible option that he’d been sold as food. That idea seemed ridiculous to me – I’d read about rare or interesting domestic dogs being napped in order to resell them as pets when I was looking into bringing my own dog – but as a westerner the very concept of eating a dog just doesn’t compute. However, I did find an article in the BBC Online about smugglers being stopped at the Laos/Thai border with truckloads of stolen dogs (mostly taken from Thai streets, where semi-stray dogs are everywhere) to be sold as meat in Laos. We’re far enough from the border in Chiang Mai that this seemed highly unlikely to have happened to Pup… but it filled me with horrible thoughts.
Due to rain on Tuesday morning, today was the first morning that Andy and I met for a run at the lake. It was strange without Pup there. Wandee, who Pup pestered endlessly, had been acting out of sorts all week in a manner that seemed like she was looking (or waiting) for him. We spoke briefly about Pup in guarded tones and sat in silence that seemed filled with the thought of him. Usually Pup would pop his head between me and Andy in the front seat of the truck, sniffing or licking us in turns or, usually right before we got to the lake, give us a sneeze shower. The cab was awkwardly empty without him. Andy said he’d have to find a new dog as we arrived at the lake, a place where you can certainly find a puppy to give a new home.
On the last third of my run I happened across a puppy I’ve seen at the lake a few times. She’s a beautiful little thing with a brown body and a black face that looks like she went bobbing for apples in a pot of ink. She sat patiently while I squeezed her face and rubbed her lanky little body, remarking to myself how soft and sweet she was. She looked up at me and I noticed she had an underbite – probably my favorite flaw in a dog. She’s affectionate, not shy and growing at a good rate, so I know she’s being looked after by somebody. Can’t take someone else’s dog, so I gave her as many strokes as I could and then tore myself away for the rest of my run.
After padwork, when Andy had gone back in the house to shower and get ready for work, I was kicking away at the heavy bag when a little burst of movement popped into my periphery. I turned my head and saw a little swarm of dogs surrounding what my mind remarked as a dog that “looked like Pup.” It took a second before I realized it must be Pup. He looked far too small and his demeanor was all wrong – he almost crawled in, skulking and looking very scared. I ripped off my gloves and hurried over to him, putting my hand down for him to smell. He didn’t move away from it, so I gently touched his head and then put my hands all over his shrunken body. He had lost a lot of weight and felt bony under my palms, but he leaned into the strokes. I looked him over and saw scratches down his side and a pretty large wound on the right side of his mouth. Looked like he’d been in a fight. His legs seemed a bit weak so I scooped him up in my arms and hurried him past the gate and into the house. I called to Andy a few times before he appeared in the living room.
I can’t imagine what went through Andy’s mind when he saw me. I’ve never come into his house and certainly have never called to him. When he saw Pup in my arms he just stopped, almost unable to register what was happening. I put Pup down and he skulked over to Andy with stiff back legs. Andy cooed his name and bent down to hold him, touching him everywhere as I had. I reckon Andy had told himself many times over that he’d never see Pup again, probably as a way to cope with the pain of his disappearance. I told Andy that Pup had come home, that he’d found his way on his own and then I slipped back out the door to give him time alone with his dog.
When Andy came out of the house a while later he told me that he’d asked Pom to keep Pup inside for a while and remarked that it looked like someone had caged Pup. I was surprised and said it looked like he’d been in a fight, which seemed (to me) consistent with him following a dog in heat somewhere. But Andy disagreed, saying the wound on his mouth was not consistent with a fight and noted the wounds on Pup’s paws. I promised to look after him as Andy left for work and, I must admit that when Pup came back out of the house he looked very timid and wounded. Something happened to him – I don’t know what, but it was traumatic and he was guarded. As I pet him his fur came out in clumps and occasionally he would snarl, not at me but certainly in a disoriented and menacing way. So I’d stop touching him, talk to him a bit and then touch him again.
As I continued loving him Pom came out of the house and asked me where I’d found him. “He came home,” I said, “walked right up the driveway.” As we were talking Big and Tor came back from their run. The boys live at the camp and Pup sleeps in their apartment more often than not – he’s as much their dog as he is Andy’s. They came right up to me, an expression of total disbelief spread across both their faces. I almost cried when I saw Big stand in shock for a moment before saying, “Puppy?” as if he was seeing the manifestation of an impossibility. He reached down and touched Pup on the nose and Pup melted into his hand.
I went back to training and Pup followed the boys over to a stone table and bench at the far end of the ring. The boys sat talking and Pup laid on the bench between them. He didn’t face them and they only occasionally reached over to touch him, but he was home – at that moment he was really home. Whatever he went through, whether it was as mundane as being hit by a car or getting in a fight with a pack of dogs or as insane as being caged by someone with a cruel heart, he made it home and he found his way. He fought to be loved.
I’m so happy to have Pup home. It settles things in a strong way and brings order to the chaos of our hearts that his absence created. In Thai the word “maa” can be pronounced in three different tones to produce three different meanings. Two of them are “dog” and “to come.” Glap maa, depending on your tone can mean both “to return” and “return dog.” He’s the comeback dog.