After a few awkward weeks, the two mini-packs of dogs and humans (A.B. and Snowy, Susan and Blue) had merged into one maxi-pack tentatively sharing an old mobile home in the Colorado Rockies, downvalley from Aspen. Blue, my mini-Aussie, learned that although Snowy, the mini-Pyrenees/Yellow Border Collie living with A.B. (previously our shared dog), seemed just like the “Zen Dog” everyone called her, even she had her limits. When Blue jumped around wanting to wrestle or race with her, she gave him a snapping response rather than a playful one.
We didn’t always agree on how to manage the dogs, but I could leave the house everyday to take care of errands and exercise in Aspen, while A.B. wrangled the two dogs and took them on walks and runs. Snowy was more of a dawdler, but Blue loved to race across fields of Colorado rocks and grass, scampering up to any dogs he saw along the way to sniff and greet them.
He loved people, too, and enthusiastically reached up to hug them with his tiny front paws, wiggling his little tail stump. Not proper doggie behavior, but he was so happy and clever that he made friends wherever A.B. took him. Well, not in all cases. He still had an inexplicable need to get aggressive with some large dogs, usually short-haired Black Labs and such. As I’d tried to do in Park City, A.B.’s technique was to let him run until he was tired. Easier to do off-leash in the mountains of the Roaring Fork Valley than I was able to do with him on-leash along the steep streets of Park City.
A.B. had been a large-dog owner his entire adult life, and his experience was mostly with mild-mannered Golden Retrievers and pooches like Snowy . He’d never lived with a dog like Blue, who had definite ideas about everything and used his paws to direct us to get up, to feed him, to play with him, to take him everywhere in the truck. Or simply looked into our eyes with a piercing stare that said, “You stupid humans, do I have to tell you everything?”
Draped over the top of the sofa so he could peer intensely out the living room window, Blue took command of the comings and goings of the Ford Explorer and anyone who came up the gravel driveway. A.B. couldn’t even sneak out of the house into the truck without Blue yelping dispiritedly to take him along. So that became their routine: truck-trip equaled Blue-adventure, even if it was just to the gas station down the road.
Heading back to Florida
As the summer months progressed, I needed to book a return flight to Florida for me and Blue. My season at the farmers market would be over by mid-October. During the years that A.B. and I lived together, I’d fly back to Florida and he’d follow by truck with the dogs and any items that had to be transported. I paid for his trip expenses, since it saved me the cost of shipping. When he left Florida for good several years earlier, I’d put all his stuff in storage there.
So we had a choice: I could fly back with Blue in October, or A.B. could drive Blue back to Florida, finally clear out his storage space and take his possessions back to Colorado. I asked him which plan he preferred.
“I’ll drive Blue to Florida and pick up my things,” he assured me.
“Are you sure you want to do that? Is your truck in shape for the trip? Can you commit to it? Because if I book a ticket for myself now, I won’t be able to add Blue to the flight later. I take a different route with a dog in cargo than just flying alone.”
“I said I’ll drive Blue, so let’s leave it at that, OK?”, he said with some irritation. No surprise there, since one of our big conflicts had always been my readiness to plan, pack and leave on trips and his desire to avoid changing from his daily routine to gather his things and go to the next location. But he seemed genuinely ready and even eager to make the trip, so I took him at his word.
Blue Stays a Little Longer
When October came, A.B. piled my luggage, the two dogs and me into the Explorer and drove us to Pitkin County Airport in Aspen. As I walked up to the security line, we said goodbye, and I watched as little Blue trotted briskly away next to A.B. My heart dropped as I left Blue there, but I also felt bad about emptying my room at the trailer into boxes and leaving A.B. alone in the mountains after our summer of living as a full pack. So I thought it would actually be good for him to have Blue stay for awhile to boss him around before he left on his trip.
As soon as I got back to Florida, I called to find out how Blue was doing, and to ask A.B. when he thought he could leave. “I don’t know yet. I’m waiting for some paychecks.”
“That shouldn’t matter. I’m paying for your round trip expenses,” I reminded him.
“Look, I’ll let you know, but there are things I have to get done here at the trailer before I go, and I have to get the truck checked out,” he said.
I was already feeling the sadness and stress of returning to my empty house alone. The whole reason I’d gotten myself a dog was to have a living, breathing buddy to keep me company. And now my tricolor best friend was far away in the Rockies, and the rooms echoed around me.
I made inquiries at the animal services shelters in my city to find a dog I could foster while I waited for Blue to return to me. But both facilities said I could only foster for a week or so to decide whether to adopt a particular dog. That’s not what they’d told me the previous spring, but it was their rule, so I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the days and nights until I saw Blue again.
For the next couple of weeks, I gingerly brought up the departure date question to A.B., and each time he had a reason why he couldn’t leave yet. Something didn’t feel right about the situation. While I knew he’d come to enjoy having Blue around that summer, A.B. didn’t seem.attached to him. But maybe something was happening that he hadn’t shared with me. It took some email prodding, and then I realized that A.B. didn’t want to give up Blue. He was keeping my dog by putting me off about a departure date. He was keeping MY dog!
What’s Best for Blue?
My head was swirling, filled with anger that A.B. would do such an underhanded, sneaky thing; grief that I wouldn’t have my dog anytime soon, if ever; and confusion over what was best for Blue.
I had no way to get Blue back unless I flew to Aspen, picked him up myself, and flew him with me to Florida. There’s only one airport that will take unaccompanied dogs in cargo in Colorado, and that’s Denver International Airport. The weather in October or November is completely unpredictable. So even if A.B. drove Blue the four hour trip to Denver, if the ground temperature was too cold that day (or the next or the next), they wouldn’t take Blue’s crate on the plane.
I tried to focus on Blue and take myself out of the equation. I asked A.B. lots of questions to determine if he really wanted to make the commitment to keep Blue and take good care of him. To actually adopt him from me. I couldn’t ask Blue what he wanted.
As cute as he was, I had to admit to myself that Blue had been challenging for me since I’d adopted him the previous April. His aggression with larger dogs, his need for more exercise than I could give him on some days, his short attention span for snuggling together before jumping up to take care of another pressing “task” — none of these behaviors were deal-breakers for me, but I was sometimes exhausted trying to keep up with him. And I was uncomfortable letting him run off-leash in unfenced areas. I didn’t want him to run away.
A.B., on the other hand, was willing to risk that, in exchange for seeing Blue happily speed across the fields and mountainsides of Colorado. And Blue had clearly bonded with A.B. and the magic truck that took him on errands around the valley. When I’d adopted Blue, I thought I’d be his “forever home”. But maybe I was just a way-station on his journey to find a happy life. A.B. agreed to take full responsibility for Blue. Still conflicted, but stranded in Florida without the resources to retrieve him, I decided to release ownership of Blue to A.B. I felt guilty, betrayed, and doubly abandoned: A.B. had left me alone in Florida two years before, and now he’d stolen my dog. Another reminder of why we’d become exes, but painful all over again.
Blue, of course, knew nothing of the human drama behind his new permanent home, and according to A.B., he continued on his merry daily activities in the old trailer in the Rockies, alongside A.B. and Snowy. I didn’t know when or even if I’d ever see Blue again. Once the decision was made to let go of Blue, I got online to find myself a dog to foster as soon as possible. No one could replace my little Blue, but there were so many dogs needing a loving home, I was ready to offer one, at least for the winter/spring season in Florida.
Next: A Colorado reunion with Blue.