I first met Copper when he was up to his favourite pastime - Houdini impressions. I knew from the B.C. Rescue Forum that Copper was a beagle who loved to escape from the temporary fencing at Saints' new accommodations, but I hadn't actually met the incorrigible runaway.
It was my first trip to Saints. I had expressed an interest in volunteering, and Carol had invited me to come for a tour. As I pulled into the driveway, I saw two women trudging up from the lower meadow shaking their heads in frustration. Carol and Carmen explained that Copper had escaped once again and they had been unable to catch him, but he would come back in his own good time.
Not knowing our Copper, I was surprised by their resigned response as I envisioned a poor hapless beagle being scared and lost, or hit by a car, or attack by a coyote, or tortured by an evil sadistâ€¦..and I quickly offered to go look for him.
So, when a brief walk around the area only revealed one cat, a half dozen bunnies, and a horse and rider, I decided to hop in my car and check the main roads. Sure enough, just a few blocks away, I spotted Copper sauntering along the side of the road, checking out the smells and the fenceposts and the occasional clump of horse manure.
Now, if there is one thing that Copper likes almost as much as his freedom, it is food. And, thankfully, I always carry some dried liver treats in my car along with a dog leash or two. So I crouched on the wet grass and held out the treats, and in my best dog-coaxing voice called "c'mon doggy, nice doggy, c'mon Copper" fully expecting him to wiggle his way over to me with a happy grin and a wagging tail, the way my own dog would have done.
I severely underestimated our Copper. He was interested in the food all right, but he would approach it in his own way and on his own time. And so I crouched there, legs aching, bum getting wet from the uncut grass, hand extended until I thought my arm would drop off, as he decidedly avoided eye contact and sidled - yes, sidled - toward me, all the while acting as if he could care less about the food and my hand was just a convenient stop on his route.
But eventually the desire for the liver treat overrode his ambivalence toward me and his little lips reached out to gather it up from my palmâ€¦ just as my other hand came around to grab his collar. Liver treat consumed, I picked up the leash which was beside me, clipped it onto the collar, picked him up and unceremoniously deposited him in the back of my Pathfinder.
I'd like to say that was the beginning of a wonderful relationship. In a way it was, since it was the beginning of a wonderful relationship with Saints and Carol and all the critters and volunteers. It took me quite a bit longer, however, to warm up to Copper. Small dogs, and especially noisy, high-pitched, woo-woo-woodeling run-away beagles, are not among my favourites in the canine world.
However, with the intent of finding a way to make a meaningful contribution to Saints, I decided to try to address Copper's need for freedom by taking him for walks. Our first adventures were less than stellar - he would pull, I would tell him to heel; he would list to the middle of the road, I would drag him back to the edge; he would send out evil thoughts to every neighbourhood dog setting them into fits of angry barking, I would try to avoid having said angry dogs climb over their fences to get at the little bastard.
One day I decided to throw Copper in the car and take him to a quiet park instead - one where I could let him have a little more leash and at the same time try to get some enjoyable exercise myself by walking and jogging pleasant trails. Copper was like a kid at the beachâ€¦â€¦ attached to a long flexileash, he ran, ears flapping, to investigate every bush and tree and picnic table and rabbit and was more than content to trot along beside me as I jogged. When we reached a stream he charged down the slope and splashed in the water, drinking as he went, a huge happy grin on his mischievous face.
It was the first of our special outings. He soon learned the sound of my car and began his woo-woo-woodles as soon as I pulled into the drive. If I arrived for another purpose, such as delivering a new Saint or dropping by to help with a clean-up day, everyone in a thirty-mile radius had to listen to Copper's endless beagle-baying. And heaven forbid I try to walk another dog first, or to short change him by a few minutes. I am - first, last, and always - his personal slave and only after I have met his needs should I entertain any ideas of attending to others. And the latent consequence of all these outings is that he has completely and irrevocably wormed his way into my heart.
He finally even seems to recognize that not every trip I make to Saints is going to result in an outing. Twice last week, I went there without walking him and as long as he had access to me - for cuddles and treats and to voice his outrage at my audacity to take on other tasks, he eventually settled down. I've started telling him my schedule, my plans for the week, reminding him that he was walked "yesterday" and I'll be back "Saturday, and we'll go to the park then." I'm beginning to think he just might understand a little. Of course, I'm not the one who has to listen to his forlorn woodle long into the night.