The dark red drops decorated the snow as a distinct, unmistakable testimony of the unfolding drama. I looked away, breathing deeply. Focus, it's only blood, I thought to myself as I pressed my knee against the frozen ground, trying to stabilize my leg which was shaking feverishly from the adrenaline rush.
Just a few minutes earlier we were enjoying a beautiful hike in the woods. It snowed the night before and the trees were covered with fresh powder, glistering in the afternoon sun. Our female dog, Zara, was running around, sniffing with excitement, rolling in the snow every few minutes to our delight. My wife and I were chattering, no less excited. We were wrapped up in what we call an "above the line" conversation -- prospecting possible future life scenarios possibilities just for the fun of it.
Today's fantasy was more adventurous than usual. We toyed with the idea of selling the house and our belongings, get an RV and travel around the country while blogging. We came up with hypothetic creative solutions for all the possible challenges expect for one. What to do with Zara?
Partly fueled by a traumatic encounter with a large dog when she was a puppy, Zara seemed to be territorial with any other dog she came across. Even in those remote places where we felt comfortable taking her off leash, she was convinced she must chase all other animals, and even more importantly -- roll in any suspiciously smelling goo she would skillfully find.
While incredibly sweet, loving and cheerful -- her ungraceful, clumsy and unwieldy demeanor often caused her to get bruised and even injured. It seemed as if she prudently selected Sunday afternoons as her favorite time to split a nail or tear a ligament, when the only option for medical assistance was an expensive urgent care facility. The idea of Traveling in an RV with Zara sounded like a recipe for a continuous disaster, constantly fluctuating between an anxious need to watch her and the vocal whining she skillfully expressed when her freedom was limited.
But this was an "above the line" discussion, in which all was permitted. My yearning for freedom reached new levels when we saw her chewing on what seemed to be an old carcass. "Leave it!" we both shouted at the same time, and in a moment of frustration, I expressed my willingness to leave her behind for a while as we embark on our imaginary adventure.
"Really, you'll be willing to let her go?" My wife asked in horror, tears of disbelief appearing in the corner of her eyes. I attempted not to think of the sad moment of imaginary goodbye, and instead pointed at the golden-furred dog which was now busy dismantling a stick with an unwavering determination. "You have to admit, it would be so relaxing to travel without her," I dug myself deeper.
She wasn't convinced, and we changed the subject as we kept hiking up the trail. But in its infinite wisdom, the Universe refused to forget my insensitive words. We were climbing up the snowy riverbed when the unruly beast run back to us from around the rocky bend, her head tilted down in an unfamiliar manner. She kept rubbing her paw against her face while attempting to bury her head in the snow at the same time. My wife leaned forward to look closer, and let out an urgent cry.
"Oh no, this is bad."
I leapt towards them. Of course it bad, it's a Sunday, and we are stuck in the middle of the woods. Frustration swiftly evaporated into guilt when I saw Zara's mouth. Her entire upper lip and upper mouth were lined with small black and white quills, no more than an inch long, from what we could only assume was the protective layer of a young porcupine. The poor dog couldn't close her mouth or use her tongue and was clearly in an excruciating, maddening pain.
Denial lasted less than a split second, clearing its way to instinctive parenting. We dove down to grab her. We both knew there was no choice. With every panicked, peeved thumping of her head into the snow she pushed the quills deeper and deeper in. We were a good 45 minutes from the car, and still had to hike up the rocky bluff. They had to come out, right there and then.
We grabbed her firmly, and she jolted in pain as I yanked the low hanging fruits. It was clear that the task was going to be harder with each one. She kept releasing from my grip and jabbing her head into the snow. I could clearly see how some of them were wedged further in. They seemed to be everywhere -- in the gums, between the teeth and in the roof of her mouth, stabbing her tongue and lower mouth as she repeatedly tried to bite the torturing intruders.
My wife held her tight as I took off my coat, gloves and hat. This could take a while. My heart was breaking -- I had no choice but to cause her greater pain in order to relieve her suffering. I needed her to be completely still. We both started to calm her down with soft voices as I pinned her to the ground with an iron grip. I started yanking the ones that were lodged inside, focusing on each quill methodically and patiently. She coiled in pain whenever I managed to pull one out, and worse -- when my finger slipped and left me empty handed.
The white snow was sprayed with fresh drops of blood with every successful extraction. I was mesmerized by the utter silence of it all... She didn't let out but the tiniest squeak. Only later I realized she couldn't yelp without using her tongue or close her mouth.
We made significant progress. I got all the quills out from her inner mouth and most of the ones outside. But there were a few more, some of them broken off or lodged so deep we could only see a couple of millimeters protruding from her black muzzle and pink gums. But Zara's tolerance for my loving abuse was dwindling quickly, and she was fighting me with everything she had. Furthermore, my fingers were now slipping almost every time. I would give anything for a pair of freakin' tweezers, I mumbled when a thought flickered through my mind --
I could use my teeth!
The prospects of placing them near the unpredicted spasms of her rock-hard skull did not seem appealing, but there was no time to waste. I let her jump up and held a bit of cold, numbing snow to her sore, bloody muzzle. We both froze into what seemed to be an agreed upon pause in our strange struggle. I held her head tight and leaned over towards her. To my surprise, she stopped squirming, and her body relaxed with a surprising trust. Somehow the fact I used my mouth made sense to her, and I felt her entire body calming down, almost magically. She allowed me to gently sense the quills with my tongue and teeth, pulling them out one by one with an unanticipated efficiency and speed.
We dove into a meditative zone, connected more than ever. She trusted me to do my job, motionless and calm, her head twitching slightly every time I got one out. Her soft, black muzzle stained my lips with blood as we silently absorbed ourselves in the tenderness of the moment. We were done in no time, and she jumped under me with a cheerful bow, licking my face in gratitude. She then leaped away in excitement, her tail wagging in pride... You should see the other guy, her entire demeanor communicated.
It was over.
I kept checking up on her periodically as we silently made our way back to the car, somewhat exhausted from the drop of adrenaline. Zara sniffed every branch and bush with an undiminished excitement, as if nothing ever happened. I love her more than ever, I thought to myself. She's my girl. Problem child or not, I could never leave her behind. Our future is forever entwined, for better or worse, until we'll be finally parted by the unpredictable magnificence of our cosmic faith.