One morning last week, Natasha the sheltie pup and I set off for our morning walk at around 7. My plan was to walk out to the end of the unpaved road through the vineyard, which is about a mile, and then just walk back.
About halfway out, I saw a man walking toward us. I've seen him many times before over the last few months. Often he and a woman walk together, but recently he's been alone. Usually he walks later in the morning, so this was the first time I've actually stopped and talked to him. Most often, I've seen him walk by on the paved road when I'm out doing things in the yard and garden, and I've always shouted bonjour when I've seen him (or them).
Natasha yesterday in photo I took with my Android tablet
This time, Natasha went crazy. She was scared, and she started barking wildly. She's not used to seeing people out in the vineyard on our walks. She started to turn tail and run back toward the house. I had already passed the walking man, who was standing there laughing his head off. "The dog's name is Natasha and she's not yet 6 months old," I told him. Elle est jolie, he replied, still laughing.
All I could do was call and call Tasha to try to get her to run past the man standing between us and continue the walk, but she was too afraid. Finally I squatted down and made noises that I know Tasha will respond to. It worked. I'd tell you what noise I make but there's no name for it. It's comparable to a ululation, but not exactly the same thing. Tasha scurried past the stranger and ran to me. I called out bonne journée to the walking man Natasha and I continued on our way.
A couple of days later, on Saturday morning, Walt was out with Natasha and she disappeared from his view for between 10 and 15 minutes. He said he was starting to panic after whistling and calling the dog for all that time, and then she suddenly reappeared. He had no idea where she had been for so long, but she wasn't hurt or acting strange in any way. They came on back home. He said it was weird because he hadn't heard Tasha bark or make any other noise for the whole time she was out of view.
Later Saturday I took Tasha out for the evening walk, and I kept a close eye on her, calling her back to me every time she started to wander. Normally, she isn't out of my sight for more than a minute or two at any time, and that's how it was late Saturday afternoon. We finished our walk without incident and returned home.
Recent produce from the vegetable garden (another tablet photo)
A few hours later I reached out to touch Tashas back and neck and realize'd that her collar wasn't on her. It was gone. Walt and I looked around the house to see if maybe Bertie had pulled off the dog's collar while the two of them were rolling around on the floor playing. No luck. Walt went out and looked around the back yard and even outside the back gate around the pond to see if he could find the leash. Again, no luck. It was starting to get dark outside.
I immediately put two and two together and said Tasha must have snagged her collar on something out in the vineyard in the morning and finally figured out how to wriggle out of it. That could explain her 15-minute disappearance. One reason to doubt that was that neither of us had noticed for 12 hours that the collar was missing. Could she have lost it on the evening walk with me? I didn't think so, because as I said I was keeping her close to me all the time out of fear that she might again disappear the way she had in the morning.
On Sunday morning both Walt and I went out walking with Natasha. We scoured the landscape, retracing our steps along the paths we had walked the day before. Walt and I split up and he told me afterwards that he had gone into the woods and ravines around the vineyard where he's seen deer recently, thinking that maybe Natasha had chased a deer the previous morning and got her collar caught on a tree branch or something else.
We didn't find the collar. Walt looked for it again Sunday afternoon and yesterday (Monday) morning on his walks. No sign of it. And then, sometime around 8:30, I heard the front gate bell ring. I was downstairs and went out to see who it might be. Tasha barked wildly.
It was the walking man we had seen out on the road last week. He said bonjour and held out the collar, tag attached, for me to see. Where in the world did you find that?, I asked him. He said he had spotted it just lying on the gravel out on the road. His first thought, he said, was that Natasha might have run away, and he was happy to see that she hadn't.
The plastic clip that is the collar's closure was broken. Maybe it had been run over by a car, since the collar was found lying on the road. Walt examined it and saw that the key ring that attaches the dog's tag to the collar was bent and deformed, and even the little tab on the tag with the hole for the ring was slightly bent. Again, maybe a car ran over it. If Natasha had caught the collar on a branch or a stake out there, it would have been left hanging on something. Instead, it was like it just fell off her as she was running or walking along the road.
Mysterious doings in the Renaudière vineyard outside Saint-Aignan
By the way, the collar's plastic clip might have simply broken all by itself. The collar in question is one that we think we bought in California in 1992 for the first dog we had, Collette. She was about six months old when we rescued from the animal shelter in Santa Clara, and we put a small collar on her. She outgrew it, but we saved it. Then we put that same collar on Callie when we brought her home in 2007. Callie outgrew it too, but we saved it. Then last April we put that same collar on Natasha when we brought her home. The plastic was probably brittle at 25 years of age.
So the collar event remains a mystery. We'll probably never know what happened. Just as we will never know what happened to Callie — why we found her suddenly and inexplicably paralyzed one Saturday afternoon in June and had to have her euthanized two days later. Dogs don't readily reveal their secrets...