Author: Martin, George

I love the smell of wet dog in the morning

Today’s Welcome Column from George Martin
Thursday, May 14, 2009

At the the Turlock campout we ended up right next to Jim Genaw and Mikki Feeney. Besides a lot of excellent music, we enjoyed just hanging out at their camp, fondly remembering the now-defunct festival at the Shasta County Fairgrounds in Anderson where we met about 11 years ago.

We swapped tales about Mikki’s adventures as an agricultural loan officer in good and bad times, and Jim’s much more adventurous adventures in the military, patrolling the Korean Demilitarized Zone, jumping out of airplanes and such.

My military career was precisely as extensive as the military careers of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, so I didn’t have much there. But I did come up with a story of wilderness survival, which, as we were leaving, Jim said, “You should write up that dog story for the CBA web site.”

So by request: How We Saved a Lost Dog

For many years Barbara and I went on at least one summer backpack trip, usually in the Marble Mountain Wilderness. This is a beautiful place, due west of Mount Shasta and north of the Trinity Alps.
Its highest mountain is 7,316-foot English Peak (I remember this because I've climbed it at least five times). There are lot of wonderful swimming lakes there, and it is so remote you can hike for days and see no one. Plus there are cedar trees as big as redwoods, giant firs and madrones, lots of birds and even the occasional bear.

One day about 15 years ago Barbara and I were struggling up the steep trail from English Lake to Hancock Lake, the latter being one of the world’s most beautiful places, in my book, when we met an agitated man and a dog.

The man was carrying a rifle, which he said he had taken to keep his brother from shooting a sick pack animal at the lake. The man said their two llamas had eaten some poisonous plant, one had died and the second was very sick. The one brother had wanted to put the animal down, and the other had fled with the rifle to keep that from happening.

We proceeded up the trail and an hour or so later as we descended into the lake basin, we met the brother, leading the llama. The animal looked bizarre: the man had fed it Pepto Bismol and the beast looked like it was wearing bright pink lipstick.

The man told us to help ourselves to their supplies. They weren’t coming back and the surviving llama was too sick to carry stuff, so they had just left it there. I guess it is indeed an ill wind that blows nobody good, because when we got there we found fresh bread, bacon, lettuce and tomatoes, even a bottle of salad dressing.

If you’ve ever eaten freeze-dried backpackers’ food you know what a treasure trove that was.

We also found a German shepherd, sitting in the campsite guarding the stuff. When we tried to approach it, the dog growled. We tried to shoo it up the trail, but the animal was apparently used to waiting in camp while its owners went fishing or something, so it kept coming back.

It was wearing a doggy backpack, which we guessed was full of dog food, but we couldn’t get close enough to get it open, so we just picked up all the fresh food and hiked over to the far side of the lake where we like to camp.

After camping for two nights we headed out and found the dog was still there. By now it was pretty hungry and we had a can of smoked oysters in our kit, so we started tossing oysters and moving closer and backing the dog out onto a small peninsula that sticks into the lake.

Barbara was bravely holding an oyster out to the still growling dog when as she recalls, “I saw it just give up.” The dog calmed down, we fed it out of its own stores, and checked the tag on its collar, which said her name was Kass.

Once we fed her, Kass seemed to be “our” dog for all practical purposes. She ran ahead on the trail and then ran back to check on us, then ahead, then back. She easily hiked three times as far as we did. We climbed up to the top of English Peak and signed her in to the guest ledger inside the old fire lookout there.

Then we hiked down the trail to English Lake and went swimming. Kass was a natural swimmer and fetched sticks in the water until we were tired of throwing them.

That night she wanted to sleep on our bags, but she still smelled like wet dog so we forbade that. She looked hurt as she scraped a little depression in the dirt about 15 feet away and curled up to sleep there.

It took us another two days to get back to the trailhead. Our car was the only one in the lot (this was after Labor Day) and there was a note under our wiper blade saying, “If you found a dog, please call ...” and a phone number.

We drove back to Yreka for our traditional post-backpack trip Round Table Pizza, then called the phone number on the paper and found it was out of service. So we asked where the Yreka dog pound was, went there, and found it didn’t have permanent staffing and was locked up tight.

We telephoned the Yreka police, but when we told them we had found the dog in the wilderness they said that was a county problem, so we called the county animal control number. We had the owner’s surname, which was a very unusual sort of Eastern European name I can’t recall right now. The county person said, “I have a listing under that name out in Sawyer’s Bar. Would you like that?”

Our hearts sank, because Sawyers Bar is a tiny town out near the trailhead we had just come from -- maybe 40 miles away over twisty mountain roads. But I called the number and the woman who answered said, “Oh, my son will be so happy you found his dog. He’s been miserable about losing Kass.”

And she gave us the proper phone number, some miles south in Lake Shasta City. They had put the rifle-toting brother’s number on the note because it was local, but he apparently hadn’t paid his phone bill.

The llama man was at work by then, but his wife agreed to meet us near the freeway. She said, “I always unload the animals when my husband comes home from a trip. I went to the trailer and one was missing, plus the dog. I went back and asked him, ‘Where’s the llama?’ and he said, ‘Dead.’ ‘Where’s the dog?’ ‘Lost.’”

Kass, meanwhile, was reluctant to leave the back seat of our BMW. The woman said, “Oh, she never gets to ride in the car, only the truck. She must feel special.”

But we dragged her out and returned her and headed south, believing that was the end of anything unusual for that trip. But we were wrong. That story, and some actual bluegrass content (!) next month.

Posted:  5/14/2009

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