“Well I suppose,” I stammered. “When are you thinking…” as I heard a gate agent make the last call for boarding.
“Actually, Mr. Bill, I’m at the airport now,” he stated the obvious. He assured me I would have no problem. She was in the basement and the sliding door on the walk-out patio was unlocked. The only thing Rambo disliked more than needles and nail trimmers was snow. (To that list we would later add 6-foot 4-inch men in rubber boots, Carhartt caps and headlamps.) Her food was in the kitchen, he detailed.
“All you have to do is open the slider, she’ll do her business and run right back in,” he said.
In a 144-square-foot exam room with two skilled technicians, my chances were 50-50. In a three story house, I was afraid, very afraid.
Jim had left for the airport straight from work. Rambo hadn’t been out since late morning. By now the snow had started with purpose. I parked across the end of the drive to shovel and strategize. As giant flakes flew over Strasburg’s corn stubble and Korth farm, they crossed the drive at a “45”. I pushed the snow to the east of the concrete, else a drift formed on the windward side.
As defeatist as it might sound, I assumed plan “A” would be a bust. Regardless of the Pope’s prediction, “She’ll just run outside and do her business,” I was going to feel a lot better with Rambo securely on the end of a rope. A snap leash on her collar would be the most secure, but would risk permanent damage to one’s distal appendages. A slip leash would be the most realistic.
To an 11-year-old, 8” tall dachshund cross with advancing cataracts, there was no way to make my shadow look anything like that of The Pope. She met me at the sliding door gnashing and barking. So much for staying low and avoiding confrontation. I crawled through the opening and lay on the floor, but to no avail. I could have painted myself in bacon grease and held my breath until rigor mortis set in, but Rambo was going to keep at least one full room between her and me. The open floor plan of Chalet Pope made for spectacular views of sunrise, but rendered it impossible to corner Rambo in order to install a leash over her head. So much for Plan "B".
Which led me to Plan “C”.
As I had expected while shoveling my drive, the wind had wrapped the west side of the house and deposited an impenetrable, God-given 4-foot frozen dog fence, just past the concrete pad. "Rambo hates winter," says the Pope.
Sweating hard from crawling through the house in coveralls and wool socks, I pulled on my boots and hat. I gently slid the door open, and visibly retreated to the north. Rambo would know the evil was on the outside, eliminate, and run right back in the house.
At times like these, Mom would quote Robert Burns, “So much for the best laid plans of mice and men,” attempting to diffuse my frustration when a plan went awry.
Her cold paws hit the concrete swept bare by the wind. Standing on her hind legs, she peered over the snowdrift to know my position. The beam of my headlamp illuminated the aqua-green tapetum from the back of her eyes, and I turned quickly so as not to spook her. With one quick look to the right, she took off like Barry Sanders past a 300-pound lineman. Leaping from one boot track to the next in outright defiance of her age and athleticism, she bolted around the house, under my idling truck, out the drive and down the road.
In a flash she was gone into the blizzard.
Desperation and futility overtook common sense as I screamed into the squall, “Raaamboooa!” The guy who vaccinates and trims nails calls for a dog who would not come to him for 50lbs of peanut butter-coated freeze-dried liver.
I switched to tracking mode. The snow was so deep her only option was to porpoise, or travel in tire tracks. On the high ground, the wind would drift the tracks shut in a matter of minutes, but she was scared, deceptively fast and in the lead. When Korth Highlands Road forked, she clearly took Helena Street. She continued south to where the road T’d into Elm Point Road. I ran west to Shulz’s drive, then back east to the boat launch. There were no dog tracks in the tire ruts, and no sign of the little black dog, as far as the beam of my headlamp could reach. The trail had gone cold.
Fighting panic, I retraced my steps to the last confirmed track, intent on studying every inch. Just as Indian Terrace met Helena Street, there was a line of white pine that functioned as a snow fence. Past the eddy of the low hanging branches there was a drift. I dropped to my knees to see a tiny set of prints scamper into the pine dander. Like a convict in a stream, I had to find her exit point.
The going was tough, and the pine trees roared an angry symphony. Between the gusts there came a decrescendo and in my heightened state of senses, I heard a shrill “Yip!” Pausing to sort reality from mirage, I carefully stepped first closer then further in the direction of the sound, like a high-stakes game of “hot and cold”. Back on my knees to get closer to its origin, I found myself on the stoop of a free-standing screened porch. I wouldn’t have put it past her to throw her voice like a master ventriloquist, but it seemed that I was right on top of her.
Retracing from the edge of the pine trees, there was the faintest evidence of tracks that led to the cinder block foundation of the porch. Just under the doorway there was one block half askew. Six inches: just enough to wedge a wayward dachshund. I pulled the steps and enough snow away to make room to lie on my belly and aim the headlamp.
Tragically bumping her head with every little yip was Rambo, holed up in the furthest reaches of the cavity under the vacation structure. She was far from captured, but for the moment contained. I huddled against the building and contemplated.
I cleared the snow as best I could with the side of my foot, and army crawled into the opening, yet I couldn’t get past my shoulders in the space. Though I chose medicine over construction, this apple didn’t fall all that far. Larger buildings have been moved for lesser reasons. I surveyed the situation to find that she was indeed sealed in the space, excepting the one block. Moving with purpose, I sealed her in and promised a hasty return.
Home was only a hundred yards away. At this point, “cut and paste” the dog walking survival kit outlined at the beginning of this story. I threw it all on the end-gate of my truck and backed in until the tires spun. I cleared the snow from the foundation. Anticipating it would be frozen solid, I freed the deck from the blocks with a four-foot pry bar and ice scraper. Positioning a handyman farm jack under each corner, I alternated, lifting each corner 4 clicks at a time. Before there was space enough to accommodate a terrier, I would shore the hole with a shim until it was wide enough to fit a 4x4.
A small victory, in that as the patio started to rise, she would no longer hit her head as she continued to “yip”. So that when I went for the capture, I did not end up with a screen porch and a dozen lounge chairs on my back, I secured the situation with a bottle jack and a block on each corner.
Once again I dropped to my stomach and attempted to wriggle forward far enough to loop the leash over her beagle ears. Aron Ralston became a cult hero for amputating his own arm to free himself from the boulder and the hard place in Canyonlands, Utah. Face to face with Rambo, under a wooden deck with only my boots sticking into a blizzard, I was not thinking speaking tour and movie rights. Every few inches I would test my ability to reverse. I was 4” short when I could no longer reliably back up.
I needed just a bit more reach.
A “rabies pole” is an eight foot aluminum pole, with a retractable, coated cable loop at the distal end. I’d never seen one at Lake Mills Veterinary Clinic, but they have a tendency to be standard equipment in most animal hospitals and shelters, to be used when life and appendages were hanging in the balance. In this case it was hers and mine respectively… the time was nigh.
I sealed her enclosure once more, so she could not escape or go deeper; tight as Hoffa’s tomb with Geraldo knocking on the door.
County Highway S is three feet higher than Arlie Wilkie’s corn stubble to the west. Jefferson County road crews meticulously keep the chicory, clover and garlic mustard weed cut tight in the fall. Yet in some inexplicable quirk of fluid dynamics, the snow drifts wheel-well deep from Korth’s curve to Highway B.
Praying that divine intervention and momentum would suffice in the absence of 4WD, I bombed down the centerline at 55mph. Halfway between Shorewood Hills Road and the stop sign there came a set of headlights. Country driving etiquette dictates in situations such as these that each driver gives the center in proportion to his machine and mission. I could already feel the snow scraping the quarter panels; my two choices were straight line or corn stubble, and Rambo was getting weaker. I chose to not speculate the commentary as I nearly brushed mirrors with a white Jeep Grand Cherokee. I watched in my rearview as it spun into the ditch.
Highway B was plowed; a temporary break so I could mentally check through the options for where a rabies pole might be stored. A hundred episodes of “Dukes of Hazard” came in handy. I downshifted, cranked the wheel and gunned the V-6 as I flew into the parking lot, doing a 180 and pointing back at the street, increasing my chances to get back out, and looking pretty cool in the process.
There is a God, and He is there when you most need Him. On the top black shelf, in the furthest reaches, above the army-issue cotton gauze wraps, I spied a red tip and grey cable.
Throwing the pole in the middle of the Porta-Vet, I backed to the edge of the black top and hit the snow plow wind row across the mouth of the parking lot at 25mph, praying for lack of cross traffic.
Thankful for small favors, my tracks had not yet drifted shut, and Steve’s Car and Truck Service was already winching my friend Rob Larson and his white Jeep Grand Cherokee out of the ditch.
Back at the shack, on my belly under the porch, I slipped the loop around Rambo’s neck and I pulled her close enough to put a chunk of New York Strip just beyond her nose. There are times to worry about pancreatitis, gastritis, vomiting and diarrhea; and there are times to go for the capture. She relaxed just enough to come my way.
Once in my arms, she was shaking like a quarter-bed in a cheap hotel. I stuffed her under my coat with only her nose and ears protruding. I held her and she looked up at me. I remember being enamored at Golden Gloves boxing matches as a kid. Two full-grown athletes would spend three rounds pounding one-another into submission. Before the next bout you’d see the two combatants ringside, reliving the match and talking about wife and kids.
Rambo spent the rest of the weekend in a warm, padded, heated run. Securely behind a latched gate and fire doors.
When the Pope returned from his weekend gallivant, I had him pick up Rambo at the clinic. As she leaped into his arms, I explained the whole thing: “Jim, she just seemed lonely at home and I had some paperwork to do.”
“Thanks, Mr. Bill,” as he handed me a bottle of single-malt Scotch worth more than my last pair of work boots.
“No problem, Mr. Pope,” as I clutched the bottle.
Just before depositing it on Rob’s doorstep, on the way home.