We visited the animal shelter to look at the dogs listed online. We were looking for a small female dog, but all of them were too yippy. We (okay, I) wanted a dog that didn’t bark (much). Not one dog fit the bill. It was a sad trip home with our two young daughters and no dog. Over the next few weeks, I continued my online search for a dog to adopt. I’d have my eye on one, but so did someone else who beat us to the punch. A few of the same dogs appeared repeatedly, but they were larger, and we wanted something small and manageable.
On a whim, one day after the girls came home from school, we hopped in the car to visit a different shelter, The Buddy Center. We were sure to beat everyone else if we showed up before a newly arrived dog could even be posted online.
Jen and Nicole planted their eyes on the wildly jumping female dog in the back cage until we learned she had probably gotten lost after jumping over a fence. My eyes scanned the room, and then I saw him. The only dog who wasn’t barking. This dog was “Nikki,” whose photo and description came up every time I searched for a dog. I didn’t recognize him by his photo, just by name. We weren’t looking for a male dog, but the girls wanted to pet him. I was willing to settle for a medium-sized male dog at this point—especially since he didn’t appear to be a barker.
My hopeful heart sank heavy like an anchor as I watched this timid, skinny dog, tail between his legs and head low, walk slowly to the visiting room. The girls sat on the floor to give belly rubs and treats. Nikki liked treats (was starving). He had been at the center for so long, it was his last day there. No one wanted him. He was thin, riddled with fleas and worms, and had segments of porcupine quills stuck in his muzzle. There were a few puncture wounds where quills no longer occupied the holes they forged but instead where infection began to settle.
So, we took Nikki home with us. The first thing to go was his name. We already had a Nicole in the family, so we renamed him Kiowa Foster Steiner. We couldn’t call him Elizabeth, the name of the town where he had been found, so we called him Kiowa, the masculine name of the next town over. We don’t know what Ki’s first year of life entailed, except for an encounter with a porcupine, a bout with hunger and aloneness, and a relationship with someone at one time who taught him to “shake” and “other paw.” We don’t know where he originally came from but learned many cattle dogs are bred in New Mexico. That must have been some hike to get to Colorado! He needed a friend to journey with, but the porcupine made it clear he or she wanted to venture alone. So, Ki did too, fending for himself in the country.
Over the next few weeks, Kiowa got to know the vet quite well as he was dewormed, treated for fleas, and had porcupine quills painfully removed. Poor guy. What a first year of life he had endured. But after a week of belly rubs and treats, he felt safe, and his personality began to emerge. I’ll never forget the day his tail began to wag, and he trotted down the hallway, realizing everything was going to be okay. As the weeks went by, we got to know the real Kiowa. He was a treasure hidden behind suffering. Seriously, the rescue center should have taken a better photo of him. His face was so cute. And those eyes, so endearing.
We loved up on this boy who didn’t bark. The neighbors repeatedly spoke of their astonishment and gratitude that he wasn’t a barker. Ki had a large backyard to run or sun in. Occasionally he’d spot a rabbit in the cul-de-sac and bolt out the door for a chase. He ran so fast he’d win—ahead of the darting rabbit. Cattle dogs know they have a job to do, to run and herd sheep. We had no sheep, only cul-de-sac rabbits and backyard voles (which he ate). Bleck! Ki liked to bring his vole prize to us at the top of the deck to show off. He monitored that backyard fence to keep these creatures from haunting us. However, one day, he sauntered into the house and dropped a vole at my feet. I swear the vole was screaming. I screamed at Ki, “You take that thing right back outside!” He sensed my distaste and so obeyed. It was haunting.
Kiowa was a mixed breed—part cattle dog and the rest, mystery dog. Whatever his other breed gave him the most precious velvety black floppy ears. He was a mix of colors—white on the top of his head, chest, and paws, and across one eye and down to his muzzle. Black covered his ears and mixed with brown and white across most of his body. Light sandy brown surrounded his other eye, patched his right cheek and other parts of his body and legs. One eye was adorned with white eyelashes, the other with black. He was unique.
After about a year, his muzzle healed up, and he looked strong and sleek. People pointed and commented on his regal muscular beauty when Mark took him to run with him along the Cherry Creek Trail. There was a comfy corner spot in Mark’s office to place the dog bed and blanket. Mark hung pictures of us, his family, around Ki’s bed, making his space look more like an apartment than just a corner with a dog bed. The two of them developed a routine to run every three days and spend guy time in the office/dog apartment.
Nicole especially loved dogs, but after Ki thought her hair braid was a play toy, he caught it while she was running around with him in the backyard. That soiled their relationship for a while. She really did want a lap dog, but Ki was too big for her lap. The only lapping he did was of his water and running laps with her dad. Jenny’s school and soccer schedule kept her from getting much time with him. So, the dog we got for our kids became more their parents’ dog, although the girls still enjoyed giving him treats and have him perform tricks such as “roll-over,” “high-five,” and of course, “shake,” and “other paw.”
Ki stood guard every time I went outside, whether to garden or read on the deck. He positioned himself where he could see potential danger come from any angle. He sat and sniffed the air, standing watch however long I was outside. He loved his job. He was made for this! Inside, Ki liked to grab a shoe and not give it back. He never chewed on one, it was just a game he made up for fun. Sometimes it wasn’t so fun when we really needed our shoe back.
As I sat at my desk working during the daytime, Ki lay next to me. We kept one another company. I always felt safe with him by my side, he would allow no harm to come to me. He was our guardian. Once on a run with Mark, Ki was attacked by a large Mastiff off-leash. He fought a good fight back. So good, the owner of the dog let her other dog off-leash to also attack our dog. Ki had twelve puncture wounds on his body. He laid around for weeks in pain.
After this encounter, Ki became less trusting and began to bark. He’d bark at anyone walking by on the trail behind our home, whether they had a dog or not. There’s a reason dogs should be on a leash even if you “know” your dog would never bite another. The dog who attacked ours was a so-called “good dog” and had never done anything like that before. No one is entitled to have their dog off-leash, yet some people think their dog is the exceptional exception.
Kiowa, our brown-eyed boy, passed last week. He lived for 17 years, 16 of them with us. His hips were giving out, and he’d fall sometimes. He couldn’t control his bowels anymore. He was old. We rescued Ki, but he rescued us more. He needed a little love and care, but we did too. He was my stable companion, guardian, and friend. He was Mark’s running buddy for most of his years and a male friend in a household of females.
Kiowa, thanks for disguising yourself until we showed up to choose you at the Buddy Center. And thank you, God, for prompting us to go to the center on a whim to rescue the dog on what would have been his last day of life. We are grateful we had 16 fun, memorable years with our rescue dog. He was a good boy—our sweet, brown-eyed boy. We will always miss you buddy.
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