by Rod Bartchy
Our seven-year-old daughter, Suzanna, wanted a dog. Hey, we all did.
The result was Cassie, an innocent little border collie puppy. But was the innocence a scam? She gnawed at the metal partitions in her crate. She nipped at my daughter’s heels with sharp puppy teeth, relentlessly herding her, in tears, into corners. The allure of a dog began to dim. Then, almost overnight, our manic menace became an angel.
Gentle, highly attuned, loving and loyal, she’d greet us daily with her wagging tail and wet nosed dog kisses. Nights she’d spend sweetly curled up on my daughter’s bed, both of them adrift in blissful slumber. She’d rest her head on your knee so you’d take a needed time out from the laptop.
But she was still a dog, which she proved to us when we brought a kitten into the house months later.
Cassie glared at it with unnatural intensity, pupils eerily dilated, her mouth open, long canine teeth ready and eager to deal with this invader. We hurriedly scooped up Audrey, the kitten, and sequestered her in the master bedroom.
Audrey did get even. Cassie would lurk menacingly outside the bedroom. Audrey would languidly slide a paw under the door. The dog would hurl herself nose first into the narrow space, convinced beyond all logic that she could force passage. Audrey then took a swipe at Cassie’s nose. This could go on for hours, and it was as close a relationship as the two would ever have. Just like Washington politics when you think about it.
It seemed that anyone she’d encountered in her first six months with us was part of her beloved pack. Anything else was not. If you weren’t pack, you were an enemy of the pack. Her job was to protect us, something she did all too well.
Though securely leashed, walking her in the Wissahickon became increasingly challenging. Runners, hikers, equestrians and other dogs all got the crazed stare, bared teeth and a threatening growl. But bikers were Cassie’s bete noir. One hapless cyclist on the Yellow Trail got the full treatment. Raised hackles, blood curdling snarl and a manic lunge with incisors aimed for his lower thigh. Panicked, the biker crashed headlong into the thorny brush, then recovered and madly pedaled down the trail, as if barely escaping with his life.
I worried that Friends of the Wissahickon would banish her from the trails. I imagined wanted posters with Cassie’s face on every tree. Instead, I was encouraged to continue my rounds by some park users who were less than enthralled with cyclists. They welcomed my wolverine on a leash. Nevertheless, Cassie and I retreated to the less traveled Andorra Natural Area. She escaped outlaw status.
Deprived of living targets, Cassie creatively responded by expanding her definition of non-pack. One summer, we were all en route to the shore. Cassie was in the back, with the window half down so she could enjoy the breeze. As I drove, I began hearing mysterious sharp clacking sounds. They were coming from behind me. I looked back and Cassie was snapping at the passing trucks going northbound on Route 347. They were moving. They were not pack. Thus, as far as our protector was concerned, they were the enemy.
Once we got to the shore, we didn’t dare walk her on the beach. Instead, I took her for a stroll at a nearby construction site. We rounded a bend. She went into a low stalking crouch, approaching a massive bulldozer, her eyes hard with lethal intent. It sat motionless, sphinxlike. After a moment she backed off. Maybe she realized she had met her match.
We moved on towards a small excavator and two dump trucks with exposed hydraulic hoses. Cassie lunged at them with furious barks and gnashing teeth. The trucks huddled in silence like terrified sheep. Satisfied, she rumbled a final growl, then strode away in imperious triumph, confident that they’d been put in their place.
Only one person was exempt from the non-pack treatment, a contractor who visited our house to verify a code compliance issue. He ignored Cassie as if she wasn’t there. She fell for him, utterly besotted, and followed him around with adoring eyes. Perhaps he’d been raised by wolves? An enigma to this day.
Cassie lived for 11 years, protecting us from bulldozers, bicyclists and clipboard clutching activists. Now I trust she’s in dog heaven. On Mondays she harasses sheep, Tuesdays she stampedes wildebeests, Wednesdays she bullies backhoes. Other days she dozes on a high promontory, one eye half open to the wooded trails far below, hoping for an unwary cyclist to rouse her to action. It’s her bucket list, and I wish her well. We should all be so lucky.
Rod Bartchy has lived in Chestnut Hill since 2009. Now a retired engineer and financial consultant, Rod is active with Meals on Wheels, tutoring kindergarten and second grade students through an AARP program and pursuing his passion of writing humorous essays.