November 16, 2015
SASHA THE MIRACLE DOG
WENTWORTH LOCATION, NH – Not much of a village here. It’s a township, rather than a town: about twenty square miles, population of 33 in the 2010 census; nothing you could call a village center, except for an old boarding house from the logging days (when it enjoyed a reputation), now an old-fashioned general and convenience store with rustic cabins, Gulf gas pumps, and deer and bear checking station. I see it’s listed for sale as a home, as well. Even though Mount Dustan rears beautifully behind it and the Magalloway River flows slowly past in front, and it would be a lovely place to live, I think I’ll pass.
Almost every place I go, I meet interesting – even fascinating – people. All it takes is a bit of extroversion and a social abandon born of old age. It’s happened again right here.
I drove up Wednesday for three days at hunting camp at the Dartmouth College Grant, an unincorporated township that borders Wentworth Location on the north – a cherished, 27,000-acre resource for both recreation and timber. As in recent years, I’d be staying with old friends in a 100-year-old log camp that was rescued a few years ago, moved to higher ground, and renovated in memory of an avid hunter and 1925 graduate of the College. I don’t hunt much anymore, but was looking forward to the peace and quiet of camp and plowing through more of Don Quixote, which it is said William Faulkner read every year. How he had time left to write, I’ll never know.
I let myself in through the locked gate and drove up to the Gate Camp to check in. During hunting season it’s occupied full-time by Lorraine, one of my favorite people. As far as I can tell, she can do almost anything, from fixing a cranky lawnmower to finding a lost hunter, from giving emergency medical treatment at an accident scene to baby-sitting her lively grandchildren. She’s also curator of the Wentworth Location cemetery, a small, quiet plot at the entrance to the Grant.
Lorraine’s also an animal rescuer, and I remembered she’d had two lovely rescue dogs living with her last year; so as I pulled up at the front steps of her camp, I dug out a couple of treats from the box I keep in the door of my truck. Sure enough, there they were – a black mop of middle-aged friendliness and a slightly more aggressively friendly brindle mutt with – if I’m guessing right – a mixture of hound and, as wine connoisseurs would say, a faint, lingering aftertaste of distant husky. Each of them took her treat, and the brindle – Sasha was her name – leaned her head against my knee to be petted. That’s where I got the husky idea; sled dogs often lean against you while you pet them.
Sasha seemed to like her ears scratched, so I did that. She gazed upward with a look of deep gratitude. I bent down a bit to scratch her chest. Her fur felt funny, almost as if it wasn’t growing there. But we didn’t know each other very well, so I quit, got back into my truck, and started the long drive up the Dead Diamond River to Hellgate, at the northern end of the Grant.
You know how some people you meet stick with you afterward? Well, Sasha stuck with me. And don’t tell me she isn’t a person. If dogs can’t be people, they’re at least what we ought to be. They often reflect so accurately the personalities of their human companions that it’s almost eerie. Sasha seemed to have been through a lot before her rescue by Lorraine. It seemed important to know more about it.
I stopped on my way out, headed home, a couple of days later, to say good-by to Lorraine and the two dogs. There were grandchildren there this time, making Christmas ornaments with crayons and bits of stiff paper. The dogs came to see if I had anything for them. I did, of course.
As I petted Sasha, Lorraine said, ”She was a pretty serious rescue. Somebody chained her to a tree in the woods, for five weeks, we think.”
I asked if she had any idea who. She didn’t; but from the way she said, “I’d like to know,” it was clear that person will never sleep easy as long as she and he are both on this earth.
“Wait,” she said. “I’ve got a picture of her the way we found her.” She ran out to her truck and came back with a photo of what appeared to be a dead dog. It was Sasha, absolutely wasted away to bones and wet, patchy gray fur. She’d recently had pups, but nothing of them has ever been found. The vet had taken a look at her and given her no chance of survival. “That night I gave her a bath,” Lorraine wrote in an email next day, “and put her on my bed, patted her and told her she would be ok. She looked at me for quite a while, gave a big sigh put her head next to mine and went to sleep. It’s been a battle with skin issues (the vet said her skin had actually died) and she’ll always be on pills but she’s happy and loved much. She’s a miracle all right!”
I was really hoping, when I headed north last week, to meet somebody new and interesting. And did I ever! As I scratched Sasha’s ears and talked to her, she leaned against my knee and looked up, and I could feel her thinking, “Can I trust this one? Does he like me?” (It was probably a man, after all, who took her into the woods and chained her there, hoping to rid himself of a problem.) She somehow managed to survive that incredible act of inhumanity long enough to meet just the human being who could nurse her back to life and surround her with the warmth she probably had never known before that. And I can’t help but reflect on what Lorraine and Sasha are teaching the grandchildren about comforting the afflicted as they grow up. It was a great trip.