Stray (Getting Lucky)

  • Roamer came into Don Tait's life unexpectedly. Somewhat begrudgingly, he was allowed to stay. That was 10 years ago. The stray became a wonderful friend to the screenwriter and owner of Tait Ranch in Frazier Park.

    Roamer came into Don Tait's life unexpectedly. Somewhat begrudgingly, he was allowed to stay. That was 10 years ago. The stray became a wonderful friend to the screenwriter and owner of Tait Ranch in Frazier Park.

Don Tait—rumored to be on his way past the big 9-0—introduced himself at a recent Rotary function as a screenwriter and developer. As the patriarch of the Tait Ranch in Frazier Park, with credits for films such as The Apple Dumpling Gang and Herbie Goes Bananas (from The Love Bug series), Tait is a beloved local figure.

By Don Tait

Close to 10 years ago, around 2 a.m., there came a whimpering at my door.

I opened it to find a large, lean dog standing there. I put out some water and dry food left over from my deceased chocolate lab, and went back to bed. The whimpering continued until I got up, let the stray in and returned to bed.

The stray was on the living room floor the next morning. There was no greeting, no sign of appreciation. We stared at one another, sizing each other up. The stray had the head and look of a German shepherd. The white ruff on his neck suggested some collie.

More food, and I opened the door wide to accommodate his options. He was not a dog to curry favor with wild swinging tail and hips. Perhaps he went out. He must have, but he didn’t go far. Nor did I try to win his favor. I provided, and begrudgingly said a few kind words. I resented him lying where my late lab had lain. I resented him inserting himself upon me when I hadn’t fully recovered from that loss. We stared at each other. He followed my every move with his brown eyes.

One day I walked to Cuddy Creek to appraise some erosion damage. It was a good distance from the house. I looked up and saw the dog standing about 20 yards from me. I scolded him for following me and raised my hand to go with ‘Bad Dog.’

Certainly, I had no intentions of hitting him, but that posture was all it took. He moved farther away and stared at me. I changed my tone, but nothing would persuade him to come to me. Between us we’d created a serious problem.

If I returned home crossing Frazier Mountain Park Road, the dog was sure to follow. Probably a safe 5 minutes later. But not really safe. He’d be crossing that busy street at a blind curve. I took a circuitous route home along the creek bed under the bridge, through thick brush and up the steep south bank.

The dog followed me at a safe distance. The trip took close to an hour. A machete would have helped. It became obvious that Roamer, (that’s what I came to call him), had been abused by his former master. He’d been driven to Frazier Park and dumped. Just the sight of a leash, something that excites most dogs, made Roamer cower. Also he absolutely refused to get into a car.

I learned to be very careful and tactful in my commands to Roamer. If I were too stern he became frightened and wouldn’t move. I had to keep my voice pleased and persuasive. It didn’t always work.

Roamer became comfortable enough in his new surroundings to stake out a spot on the sofa. He also liked to lie where he knew I would be walking or where my feet would rest if I sat down. But he would move when he saw me coming.

I assured him it was alright. He didn’t have to move, but he did.

I didn’t invite him to join me on my evening walks, but soon he was trailing, then leading. Around 5 p.m. he’d stand before me and fix me with his eyes. It was time.

He chased rabbits and deer in vain. On most walks Roamer disappeared, setting his own course. But when I called out that we were going home, a short time later he’d trot past me. He liked to lead. Twice I saw him standing beside a large coyote. But when I would hear a pack following us and howling, I said “No Roamer, you stay here,” and he did.

When I watched the Dog Whisperer and saw those crazy dogs, I realized what a wonderful and well-behaved dog Roamer was. He had dignity. If he wanted out, one bark, then one for “in.”

If a door separated him from me in the night and he wanted access, he knew it was late and his bark was very soft.

Roamer was always glad to see me, but he never stood up to put his paws on me. He licked my hand.

If there were any variations in the morning routine, Roamer picked up on it and disappeared on the far side of my bed. Something was up.

If I went away for a brief period, I was told that Roamer wouldn’t leave my bedroom for three days.

Roamer could recognize the sound of my approaching car from over 100 yards away. The greatest reward I ever gave him was letting him share my king sized bed. He didn’t stir until I did in the morning, no matter the time. If I were nodding in front of the TV and Roamer wanted something, like dinner, he wouldn’t bark, he’d just stand in front of me until I felt his presence and opened my eyes.

There came a time when Roamer could no longer hear my car and couldn’t get up on the bed, though I felt and heard his futile attempts in the night. On our walks I’d turn around to see him standing there looking at me. It was painful to walk and couldn’t we head home? Yes, we could.

I was cautioned by my son, Dean, not to let Roamer out when there were any strange cars on the property. Roamer was too trusting and had no street smarts. This was his domain. He could roam where he wanted. One pickup truck and trailer remained on the property from a recent Renaissance Faire. The owner got behind the wheel after a brief conversation with me and Roamer. He could not help but see me calling to Roamer to come, to get out of the way. I recognized the potential danger and raised my voice to Roamer. He froze close to the truck and was run over.

Maybe we shouldn’t look the other way when we notice that stray dog trotting briskly in the street. Chances are he or she doesn’t have a clue where they’re headed. They’re lost, bewildered and frightened, and they could get killed or become the most devoted, loyal friend you ever had. But I do think Roamer and I both lucked out.

This is part of the October 07, 2011 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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