WEST FORK KICKAPOO - Standing outside in my PJs on the morning my porch was glazed with ice, I hollered and pleaded for Ruben to come home. The echo of my fear rang loud and clear from the bottom of the valley through the frozen trees and over the glassy roads.
Dane had done the morning chores, sparing me the risk of slipping on the slick ice-coated snow while my hip continues to heal. When he came inside he reported, “Ruben ran away.”
“What? I thought he was eating breakfast!”
“No, he must have taken off to look for more deer legs.”
Ruben’s latest obsession has been bringing home leg after leg from deer carcasses that hunters have left to rot in the woods. Much to my dismay, even after four legs, more keep appearing. He can spend all day chewing on them.
“But that isn’t like Ruben. He loves to eat.”
“I guess the rotting deer meat is more attractive,” Dane replied.
And that started me shouting out the door for Ruben. Between calling his name and yelling “Peanut butter!” I was thankful not to have neighbors living close enough to see me, although they could likely hear me. Yelling “Peanut butter!” usually results in the fastest return time with any of my dogs. But now Ruben wasn’t responding even to his favorite treat.
Teté, nonplussed, sat in the kitchen watching and listening to my frantic plea for Ruben to come home. And that’s when I heard a soft cry.
“Do you hear that?”
“Do I hear what?”
“I just heard someone cry. Did you lock Ruben in the basement accidentally?”
“No. He never even came downstairs to eat.”
“Wow, that’s really strange. I can’t remember him everskipping a meal.”
I pulled on my boots and my thick winter jacket. Just as I was about to put on my hat I again heard a whimpering. I looked at Teté, sitting so straight and tall. “Is that you, girl—are you crying?”
Té cocked her head as if saying, “Nope, not me, fool!”
And then it dawned on me… I opened the bathroom door, the only door inside my whole house, and out wiggled Ruben!
“Oh, Ruben, you poor sweet pea! Did Papa lock you in the bathroom?” Ruben was as warm as could be on that frigid morning. He loves lying on top of the bathroom heating grate when Dane showers. Dane hadn’t noticed him before shutting the door.
What had Ruben thought when I was yelling for him like a mad woman? He never barked or clawed at the door—just that tiny, soft cry. And just as mysterious to me: what had Teté thought? Did she know where he was all the time?
After lots of hugs and praises from me—“Good-good boy, you don’t run away, do you? You just get locked in the bathroom”—Dane took him downstairs, without the other dogs, where he enjoyed a king-sized breakfast. Hewas no worse for the wear.
Two days later, Ruben was MIA again. Dane came in after carrying three 50-pound bags of duck feed and a salt block to the snake shed, and once again sweet Ruben was nowhere to be found. I was a mess. And since neither Dane nor I knew where the deer carcasses were that he’d been bringing home, piece by smelly piece, we had no clue where to look for him.
Walking up the road, calling his name and “Peanut butter,” looking for a flash of black on the white snow, didn’t make Ruben come home. Again Teté was quiet, not her normal barking self. But she was closely watching my every move, first from inside the house, then while sitting in the driveway.
After 30 minutes of calling and searching, I could feel my hair turning gray. I love that little guy and couldn’t imagine why he’d take off. I happen to know that he feels the same about me. But I also realize I can’t compete with rotten deer carcasses.
Dragging my feet past Teté, who was still observing me closely, I pulled myself up the steps, ready to call the sheriff and report Ruben missing, when the front door opened and Dane stuck out his head. Pointing past me he said, “Look, Ruben’s sitting in the car!” Turning quickly enough to lose my balance and almost knocking over Teté, I swung open the driver’s door, and there was dear Ruben, dog-grinning at me.
He must have jumped in while Dane was unloading the feed. He loves riding in the c-a-r because he knows he’ll go somewhere fun for a w-a-l-k. But not this time. This time, I just wanted him to come inside and get a gigantic spoonful of peanut butter.What a good boy Ruben is, who doesn’t run away. As for Teté, I think she knows a lot more than she lets on…