Lil Bear, My Black Collie

September 19, 1998—August 3, 2006




Lil Bear was a “schmoozer,” an escape artist and the first dog of my adult years. He was born on my fiftieth birthday in a litter from my husband’s purebred Shetland Sheepdog and a shaggy black neighborhood mutt. In My Dogs And How They Shaped My Life, Bear disappears for five days but finally finds his way to my stepson’s home, arriving tired and sore. Here is the back story of what happened to Lil Bear.

Lil Bear’s Story

Bear sniffed at the latch in the gate. He knew he could open the gate and squeeze through, but did he want to? He looked back. Muggles, his best buddy, was sleeping in the shade under the big red truck. He was out for an hour or more. He wouldn’t come, anyway. Muggles was always the “good dog.” Paddy, the upstart, was at Bear’s shoulder. She couldn’t squeeze through the gate. Already, at less than one year old, she was too big. Paddy whined. She didn’t want him to go.

Jude had left. Bear had walked her to the gate as she pulled her rolling suitcase behind her. She told him he couldn’t come with her this time. When she had the suitcase, he knew she wouldn’t be back for days.

What was a dog to do? Bear liked to meet and be with all sorts of folks — dogs, cows, cats, humans. If Jude wasn’t home or he wasn’t with her, why stay in this sleepy, boring little yard? The world was large out there! His mind made up, he pushed against the gate and forced an opening between the gate and the fencepost just large enough to squeeze through if he was quick. He pushed hard, stuck his head and shoulders through, then his butt and he was out!

Satisfied with his escape and ready for fun, Bear trotted down the dirt packed country road to the cattle pasture. He paid no attention to Paddy’s sharp bark behind him.  His favorite calf was right by the fence. They sniffed noses. Bear licked the calf’s nose. When the calf moved away from the fence, Bear slipped under the barbed wire and followed. “What does he smell?” he wondered.

Head down, he didn’t notice Mama Cow until she was almost on him. Startled he shied and scampered away from the calf, but that wasn’t enough. Mama Cow chased him to the far end of the pasture and wasn’t satisfied until Bear was through the fence and on the other side.

Bear shook himself. Then he took stock of his surroundings. Now he was near the German Shepherd Dogs’ house. He went to look for his two friends. He checked the far side of the house, too, but they were nowhere to be found. Across the street was the apple orchard. Bear headed in that direction. Two large brown dogs came out from under the porch. They growled and barked fiercely at him. Bear trotted off quickly in the opposite direction.

The dirt road changed to hot and sticky pavement. Now he was on that busy street. It smelled horrible. Which way to go? Honk!! Honk! He jumped to the far side of the road as a large semi truck rumbled by. “Get out of the road, you stupid dog!” Honk! Honk! Bear ran. Finally, he slowed to a trot, and then to a walk and looked around. This road was paved also, but much less busy. He was not familiar with this road.

He came to the railroad tracks. He sniffed the metal tracks and walked along the crushed stone next to the tracks. This was familiar. He had been on a roadway like this with Phil and the little boy, Tim, on their bicycles. This was the way to Tim’s house with his mom. Bear looked up the tracks and then down the tracks. He wasn’t sure which direction was the right one. A car swished behind him on the road. He went in the direction away from the car.

Nosing along, he gathered in many smells, some he recognized, some he didn’t. He continued down the railroad right-of-way on his way to Tim’s house.

As time went by, the cool New Mexico morning became hot. If he walked on the metal of the railroad tracks, he burned his paws. When he stayed on the crushed stone of the right-of-way, the stones tore at his feet. If he left the railroad right-of-way, he wasn’t on the path to Tim’s house. Bear was hot, thirsty and sore. Bear thought about the comfort of the yard and the cool big bucket of water there. He was no longer sure leaving the yard had been such a good idea.

Bear crossed over the tracks to a cool stand of trees that seemed to follow the railroad. He lay down, panting. He slept a bit and then he traveled on.

It was getting dark. He stopped at a busy cross street. He sat a bit back from the road and watched the cars go by. He knew cars were dangerous. He had been hit once and it was very painful. With Phil and Tim, Phil had told him when to cross the road. As Bear hesitated, a small pickup truck slowed and pulled up next to him.

“Look, Dad! There’s a dog. He looks sad.” A young boy jumped out of the truck and ran over to Bear. Bear thumped his tail and licked the boy’s hand. “Oh, Dad, look! He likes me already. Can I keep him?” His Dad stayed in the truck but hollered over, “No, son, I’m sure he belongs to someone. He’s just lost.” The boy furtively looked over his shoulder and saw that his Dad could not see what he was doing. He unbuckled the round leather collar with its identification tags from Bear’s neck and quietly laid the collar on the ground.

“Come on, dog. Let’s go get some water!” Bear wagged his tail and followed obligingly. “Dad, let’s just take him home and give him some water. We can find his owner later.” The boy added under his breath, “His owner that let his dog wander and wander until he was so hot and tired that he couldn’t go any farther.”

Bear was glad to go with the young boy. He had had quite enough of an adventure.  Water and food sounded great.

The boy held Bear on his lap until Bear wiggled off and laid at his feet in the footwell of the passenger seat. After awhile, the truck pulled into a dirt yard with a single wide mobile home. A tired looking woman stepped out.

“Where have you been? Dinner is ready. It’s burnt now,” she grumbled.

“Look what I found, Mom! Dad says I can keep him.”

“That dog is not coming in the house. Tie him up and get inside.”

Bear didn’t get any food and water until the next morning when the boy came out of the house again.

“Sorry, boy. I forgot. Here’s some water and this is my leftover Cheerios. I’ll see you after school. Bye!”

Bear remained tied in the dirt yard all day. It was hot. He pawed at the dirt and dug up a cooler place to lie. He lay panting.

Finally the boy came home from school. He gave Bear some water and went back into the house.

This was no fun at all, Bear thought. He needed to get back home. Jude would be there soon. He pulled on the rope but it was tied tight to a stake in the ground. Bear began to chew on the rope. He chewed all night. By morning he was free. He shook himself and headed down the road. This time he would find Tim’s house. Tim would get him home to Jude.

Continued from My Dogs And How They Shaped My Life:

That night I went to bed without Bear sleeping on the floor next to me, thumping his tail whenever I awoke. I felt a hole in my stomach to think of no Bear in my life. During the next few days, I traveled miles, searching and calling his name.

Finally, Phil got a phone call. After a minute or two, he hung up. “That was Tim’s mom. Tim thinks Bear just walked up their driveway to their house. She says it’s a very bedraggled black long haired dog. She’s not sure if it is Bear. The dog is very tired and limping.” We hurried out and went over together.

Yes! It was Bear although I have to admit he looked so much the worse for wear that I wasn’t sure at first. He managed a thump of his tail when I reached him and I knew that indeed this was my missing pooch.

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  • I planned to read the book slowly,

    one dog story at a time, but I got caught up in the author's life as it was weaved into the book. If you are a lover of animals, and especially dogs, this book is for you.

    - Marie A

    The stories were helpful to me.

    They made me self reflect and acknowledge grief I still hold. Then I got busy and applied the “dogged resilience” the author describes.

    - Ellen C

    The author is a strong woman.

    She faced many difficulties well. She inspires me to be strong, too.

    - Jen W

    It was a good read.

    Made me wish the author had more dogs so I could keep reading.

    - George K

    I couldn’t put it down!

    I was up until 2am.

    - Helen B