The Wounded Shephard

“Well, Joe, it’s time to get up.” Joe raised his head to give his partner an affectionate and inquiring look. He knew the routine well in the two years they had been together. It was at least another minute before Mike finally threw aside the covers and sat on the edge of the bed. Reaching over, he gave Joe the expected head scratch. “Let’s get ready for work.” As if on cue, Joe jumped down to begin his customary perusal of their surroundings while Mike went to wash and dress. Checking for any offending smells or sounds, he examined the perimeter of their cabin. Satisfied nothing was amiss, he made his way across the yard to an appropriate location to rid himself of excess baggage. Then, expecting his partner to be ready, he headed back, allowing himself a few brief moments to greet a couple friends along the way.

When he arrived back to the room, Mike had finished dressing and was just about done making the bed. Quickly trotting over, he reached out a paw and put it on the edge of the bed. Mike looked at him and said, “No, not today, Joe. Joe, don’t you dare . . .” in his mildly-stern voice. In response, Joe cocked his head to one side, considering whether the warning was real or not. When they had first met, they occasionally played a game where Mike would make the bed, and once he was just about done, Joe would jump on it and roll around. This would immediately be followed by Mike saying several words Joe didn’t understand as he tried to drag him off the bed—while Joe appropriately played dead. It was great fun, but they hadn’t played the game in a while. Mike, seeing he was about to lose the battle, used the one trick he knew would work: “Let’s go get breakfast!” Immediately, Joe ran to the door with a bark. Laughing, partly with humor and partly with relief, Mike followed Joe out the door.

After breakfast, the team began their customary rounds of the park. Joe kept his senses attuned, ready to alert his partner to the smell of smoke or the sound of a person in distress, while Mike followed, looking for signs of lost hikers and abandoned items. Understanding that his partner was handicapped with only 2 legs and extremely limited senses, Joe slowed his pace accordingly. For the most part, he didn’t mind working with humans, for they were surprisingly innovative and intuitive. He especially did not mind working with Mike, who not only let Joe take the lead most of the time but also learned to follow the majority of his signals; there were very few instances when the two of them disagreed on a course of action, and when that happened, they found an acceptable compromise.

Along their route, Joe heard a sound of distress. Quickly jumping ahead, he discovered a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest. He scanned the area, and although he could see the nest positioned in a branch above him, the mother was nowhere around. He gave a couple low whines to draw Mike’s attention. On cue, the ranger immediately came over to see what the problem was. Joe looked at the bird, giving a low whine, glanced back at Mike, making sure he saw it, and then looked up at the nest, offering a quiet bark. Mike immediately nodded with understanding, giving Joe confidence to step back and let him work. Mike put on a pair of gloves and slowly knelt down next to the baby bird, speaking softly to not frighten it more than it already was. Carefully scooping up the chick, he stood up on his 2 legs and was just able to reach high enough to deposit it back into its home. Joe had to admit that even though humans were slow with the way they walked, their height was an advantage at times. Once the bird was rescued, Joe gave a full-volume bark of approval. In response, Mike scratched his ears—an act Joe had come to realize was the human’s way of showing gratitude for being able to assist in the job.

As they continued along the path, Joe heard something that caused him to stop and listen intently. Up ahead around a small shrub, he heard some type of scuffle, which sounded like animals fighting; at least one of them was in distress. He made a loud bark and quickly ran ahead, jumping over a low bush. He heard Mike warn him to slow down, but he was already in the air before it registered. He did not have time to react before he saw spears coming at him and felt his entire face explode in searing pain. He immediately jumped back, howling in excruciating pain. He tried to back up further, shaking his head to get free, but nothing was working. Amid the explosions of pain burning his face, he felt Mike kneeling on the ground holding him, saying something over and over. All of his senses were overwhelmed by the throbbing pain, but he could just barely see through blurry eyes the small prickly creature scrambling away, followed by smaller ones. He realized what happened then, but it did not lessen the pain. He continued shaking his head, but the effort was useless. After a few minutes of Mike holding him, stroking his neck, and speaking into his ears, the pain started to diminish enough that he could make out what Mike was saying: “It will be okay, Joe. It will be okay. I’m here. Don’t worry, it will be okay. It will be okay.” Although he understood the sense of his words, he didn’t feel that things would ever be okay.

Although his partner was severely limited by walking on only 2 legs, Joe allowed him to carry him back to the base. It helped to be held by someone he trusted as much as Mike, and he still had trouble seeing. He only wished that they could get back quicker and that the pain would stop. He had stopped howling, but he could not prevent a recurring whine from escaping his lips. The entire way back, Mike spoke to him, trying to sooth his distress. Joe knew Mike was not a human who talked a lot, and the constant words along with being held and stroked did seem to help get his mind off the torment. Shortly, Joe could make out the cabin up ahead and knew they had made it back home. He expected Mike to put him down immediately, but instead he called to one of the other rangers, who opened the door. Going inside, Joe was shocked to see Mike set him down on the bed even though it was already made. Remembering he was not supposed to be on the bed when it was made, he tried to crawl off, but Mike put out his hand to stop him. “It’s okay, Joe. You can stay. It’s okay.” Joe felt too weak to argue or play, so he simply stayed, He wanted to lay down completely, but the pain in his face prevented him from being able to put his head down.

“Stay right there, okay Joe? I’ll be right back. Stay right there,” said Mike as he ran out the door. Joe tried to be calm, but the pain seemed to be getting worse again. He wanted to get up and run, but his desire to wait for Mike to return was strong. Where was he? It seemed like time stretched on forever. Finally, Mike returned with a few items in his hands. Placing them on the floor by the bed, he knelt next to Joe. “It’s going to be okay, Joe. It’s going to be okay. I have to give you a shot for the pain, okay? It will help with the pain.” Joe did not understand most of what Mike was saying, but he knew “okay” meant the pain would stop. He tried to focus on the promise that the pain would stop. Mike wouldn’t lie to him. He was his partner and his friend. He trusted Mike with his life. Mike said it would be okay.

Right at that moment, Joe saw Mike lift something toward his face. It looked like a small spear, just like the ones that hurt him. No! He suddenly began to panic, jumping up on the bed, howling, looking through his blurry eyes for a way to run away. What was going on? Why was all this happening? What did he do that would make Mike hurt him more? He felt afraid and sad along with the burning pain in his face. “Joe! Listen Joe! You have to calm down. Please Joe. Calm down.” He could hear Mike’s voice, a voice he had grown to trust and love, and he wanted to listen to it, but the pain and fear made it hard to listen. Mike continued to talk to him until Joe eventually was able to relax again even with all the pain. He could feel Mike stroking his fur, soothing away the fear. “Joe, I know it hurts. I have to give you a shot to lessen the pain. Please Joe, you have to trust me. I know you are scared, but you need to trust me. I know the shot will hurt, but this pain will help get rid of the pain. We have to remove the spines before any of them go deeper. You could lose your eye if we don’t do this now. You need to trust me, Joe. Please, Joe, you need to let me help you.” Although Joe could not seem to hear many of the words his partner said, he somehow understood the main sense of what Mike was saying. He had to trust Mike even when the pain and fear made him want to run away. He had to let his partner help him through it.

Calming himself as much as possible, Joe stopped howling and tried to settle down. Everything inside him wanted to run and get away, but he knew he needed to trust Mike. He could not help the whines and yelps from the pain, but he made the decision to get through the throbbing and numbing pain and trust his best friend. He almost lost it again when Mike lifted the thin, spiny thing up to his face. He started to pull back, but he could feel Mike’s hand stroking his neck and hear his words in his ears: “I know this will hurt a little, Joe, but it will help you. If we don’t remove the spines, they will continue to hurt you, going deeper and deeper, affecting your sight and smell and even eating. This little pain will help to stop the big pain.” It took every bit of strength Joe had to let Mike poke him. What surprised him, however, was that the fear of the stab was actually much worse than the stab. The sight of the thing in Mike’s hand had brought back the pain of the attack, but the thing itself was relatively minor compared to the other pain he felt. Also, once it was over, he began to feel some of the other pain lessen. It seemed like the pain was getting buried where he couldn’t feel it—except when he moved. He found that if he didn’t do anything at all, he almost felt fine.

He could still hear Mike speaking to him. “Very good, Joe. That helps, right? That is very good, but we are not done yet. I’m afraid this next part is going to be harder, Joe, but we will get through it.” As Mike continued to stroke Joe’s fur and speak to him, he began to feel a bit safer. He then saw Mike lift up something else in his hand and bring it up to his face. He was again saying, “it will be okay, Joe. I am sorry about this, but it will be okay.” He could hear pain in Mike’s voice, and he was a bit afraid, but if the first thing took away the pain, this second thing should help more. He was finally getting used to the pain going away when Mike moved really fast and a new jolt of pain exploded in Joe’s face. Joe jumped up with a loud yelp, not understanding what happened. Why did Mike do something to hurt him again? The pain was going away! Why would he do that? He wanted to run all over again, but he could hear Mike telling him it would be okay. He did not feel like it would be okay. It would never be okay again. His partner hurt him. He didn’t understand. Seeing clearer now, he jumped over Mike and would have run outside, but the door was closed. He wanted to run away and hide, but there was nowhere to go.

As he paced back and forth, looking for a hiding place, he could hear Mike talking to him. He was still kneeling by the bed, looking at him. “Joe, it’s okay. I know it hurt, but it will help you get better. Please, Joe, you need to trust me. I am trying to help you, Joe.” Joe was torn inside. He trusted Mike, but he did not like the pain. It had started to go away again, but he was afraid. Would Mike hurt him again? He had always trusted Mike; why would Mike want to hurt him? He was confused and afraid, but somewhere inside he knew Mike loved him and wouldn’t hurt him. Slowly, with unrestrained whimpers, Joe crept back over to Mike. Mike reached out to stroke Joe’s fur, scratching behind the ears, telling him mover and over, “You are a GOOD DOG, Joe. You are a GOOD DOG!” With those words, Joe knew he could trust his partner even if it hurt sometimes. Still feeling some fear, he climbed up on the bed facing Mike.

The rest of the surgery was not easy. Each event brought an explosion of pain back to Joe, reminding him over and over of the attack, like it was happening all over again. However, each time he let Mike do his work, something disappeared from inside him. Although the pain coming out was worse than the pain going in, he could somehow tell that letting the pain go deeper would have meant it would never have stopped hurting and would have affected him the rest of his life. Even with the pain and the whining, he forced himself to stay through it. Well, almost; the next to last one seemed to be worse than all the others before it, and he couldn’t help jumping away and pacing for a few minutes. It took more time for him to relax, but by that time, he knew that Mike really was helping him, so as difficult as it was, he went back. Constantly, throughout the whole ordeal, he could hear Mike telling him how brave and strong he was being. When it was finally done, Joe was exhausted, and Mike laid down on the bed with him—even though it was the middle of the day. It was a couple more days before the soreness was gone, but it eventually left. Joe found that not only could he do everything without pain again, but the trust and love between himself and Mike had grown even more than it was before.