By Tracy Ahrens
Over the years I’ve kept the first collar or last collar that my pets have worn. It’s fun to look at the size of a kitten collar and compare it to the size of a cat’s neck as an adult.
The brown rolled leather collar my cat, Forest, wore as a kitten now hangs over the corner of a picture frame featuring him sleeping upside down in the middle of my bed when he was a mere four months old.
A 1-and-a-half-inch-wide, red, martingale-style collar belonging to my dog, Trucker, will be retired one day, silently carrying a lifetime of stories about the adventures Trucker has put it through.
I reflected on these adventures recently when Trucker lost his collar and I feared I’d never see it again.
The collar’s Celtic knot motif in gray and red on black (a collar I special-ordered online) is symbolic for Trucker’s life to date. Celtic knot-work patterns are a symbol of life’s journey, a pathway to the sacred and divine source.
As I cautiously searched through a knot-work of thorny thickets for this lost neckband, I thought of the life’s journey Trucker and I have had together.
The day he lost the collar, just before dusk, Trucker crawled into thickets along the riverbank next to my home. Obviously a scent attracted him on this quest as I stood at a distance helplessly watching. He went into one side of the brush, I saw the bushes shaking and then a disturbingly loud growling and barking sound rang out. It wasn’t my dog growling and barking, it was a raccoon. I hollered for Trucker and he popped out of the opposite side of the underbrush.
That is when I noticed that his collar was no longer around his neck. Trucker is beautifully marked with black and white coloring, like a Holstein. The red collar stands out against his fur. At that moment when he popped out of the brush, he was naked.
I tried to crawl into the underbrush to find his collar, but darkness was upon us. I barely slept that night knowing that his collar was out there somewhere, including his name tag, rabies vaccination tag, microchip identification tag, and a St. Francis of Assisi medallion. God knows Trucker has needed assistance from St. Francis (patron saint of animals and the environment) throughout his life, and without a doubt in my mind, he has had guardianship from a Higher power since he was a puppy.
As a pup, Trucker was tossed out of a semi cab. Someone rescued him and then sold him at a garage sale. The couple that purchased him divorced and Trucker moved into a new residence with the man. The man’s roommate threatened to hurt Trucker because he tore things up during bouts of separation anxiety. The man surrendered Trucker to a shelter. His ex-wife reclaimed Trucker when she spotted him at a pet adoption fair; however, she returned him to the shelter when he tore up her home, again due to separation anxiety.
While Trucker was at the shelter, he had to be placed on two medications—Prozac and a sedative—just to help him stay calm and not injure himself trying to escape cages while workers were away. He also has a fear of thunderstorms, probably due to a former caregiver leaving him outside for a time in a fenced dog run.
Because of this storm phobia and separation anxiety, Trucker has torn through multiple window screens to flee my house when I’ve beeen gone. With his nose he pushed up unlocked windows and ripped through screens. Thankfully he stuck around outside until I returned home.
One afternoon while I was at work he escaped from our fenced-in yard. I had left him outside (per veterinarian recommendation) so he would not hurt himself trying to escape from my house. I found him in a little town several blocks from home, panting, scared, wondering where he was going and how he would get back home.
Another time he ran off in fear of a deliveryman who came to the house while I was gone. He was missing 12 hours as I looked for him non-stop. He magically appeared back home just before sunrise, finding his way back on his own.
He’s torn through a second floor window screen in my current home and jumped out of the window while I was at work. Thankfully he didn’t injure himself in the fall.
Another time while I was gone, he went through a window screen on the second floor during a storm, climbed to the top of the house and jumped off as neighbors tried to coax him down.
He hit the ground, jumped up and ran for blocks in 100-degree heat, along the riverbank, into a downtown close by and dashed across busy highway lanes of traffic. When he collapsed under a tree at a nearby high school, one of my neighbors picked him up and carried his 60-pound body home.
I’ll never forget the afternoon I came home from work and Trucker greeted me at my backdoor covered in black, oily streaks and smelling rancid. Even the red collar was a mess. I’ve no clue where he was rolling while I was gone. He had to be professionally groomed while the collar was soaked in vinegar and water and run through a washing machine three times.
The morning I embarked on finding his collar in the thickets, heavy rain was expected. Under brush, in the entryway of a hole dug into the earth by a wild animal, I saw Trucker’s collar. I couldn’t reach it with my hand because it was so deep under thorny branches. I rushed back to my house to get my tomahawk and hooked the collar with the blade to pull it closer.
Dirtied with mud and accented with multiple pillbugs crawling about on it, the collar came back home and went through another washing machine cycle in a delicates laundry bag.
It has churned in the washing machine many times after he’s enjoyed smelly rolls on dead squirrels and animal waste.
Today, the fourth St. Francis medallion tag hangs from his collar. Hooks on the first three tags broke shortly after he returned home from scary adventures. I found the tags in our yard or in the house, as if they fell off after helping him find his way back home. I display all of them on my bedroom dresser beside one of his framed pictures.
Not all of the adventures Trucker has taken his collar on have been scary. This collar has embarked on many veterinarian and groomer visits. It has seen countrysides, riverbanks, city streets, and visits inside of neighbor’s homes. It has followed along with postal carriers, wrestled with doggie friends and snuggled under warm blankets beside me in bed.
Most of all, it has witnessed me showering Trucker with countless hugs, kisses, and words of love.
Tracy Ahrens is a veteran journalist, author, artist and mom to three rescued cats and one dog. See her web site at tracyahrens.weebly.com and add her book, “Raising My Furry Children” to your collection, raisingmyfurrychildren.weebly.com.
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