Heart to Heart

Elika the Runner

When my mini-American Eskimo dog, Elika, came into my life at seven months old, she was a runner. We were living in the city, and one afternoon she managed to squeeze out of her collar and take off down the street, which nearly gave me heart failure. I called and called, but she was so focused on whatever it was she was so focused on that she didn’t even hear me. I don’t think she was ignoring me. I honestly don’t think she heard me. She was in some other zone.

In desperation, I finally sat on the sidewalk. As soon as she saw me down there, she ran from the end of the block and leaped into my lap.

She’d behave the same way when I took her to run at the beach (which we did in the off season). She’d be fine, playing with the other dogs, lapping at the water, enjoying the heck out of every minute, and then slam, bang, she was gone. I have never seen a little dog move so fast. Ears flat against her head, she was like a bullet through water, only she was on land and headed off the beach and into the park.

So I got the idea to keep her leash attached to her collar at all times. That way, when she got the notion to take off, I had a much better chance of catching her. I know, pathetic. But the dogs of my past had been big, quiet dogs, dogs that followed me around like—well, like big, quiet dogs. I didn’t know what to make of this little jack rabbit.

A few months after Elika and I became city roommates, we moved to the country. We were living on a seven-acre property caring for five horses while their humans were out of the country. When Elika and I went for walks off the property, I used her leash. But for reasons that now escape me, I didn’t use a leash when we were outside together on the property, trusting her to stay close.

The reasons escape me because she had proven herself to not be completely trustworthy. Ninety-percent of the time, she was well behaved. But if she saw a rabbit or a squirrel or a bird that tickled her fancy in a particular way, and by that I mean it moved, or if, heaven forbid, I turned my attention to my hay guy, throwing bales off the back of the truck while he stacked, Elika was gone. Gone so fast you barely had time to register that she was, in fact, gone.

Now this was a dog whose heart was entwined with mine, who loved being around me, loved exploring with me, loved working with me. She slept close to me all night and would often give me glorious wolf face washes in the morning. She assisted me with most healing sessions and all of my Reiki and Animal Communication classes. She was, and is, a dear friend and partner, a complete joy to be around.

Still, from time to time, she continued to simply take off. She would ignore my “Elika, come” command, and when I would go after her (as though there were any way I could possibly catch up with this streak of light), she behaved as though we were playing a game, waiting for me to get almost close enough to grab her and then shooting away, ears flat, wearing that sweet grin that I otherwise loved but that on these occasions felt like a spike in my heart.

 

The Conversation

This behavior, this joyful running (her perspective), this hurtful lack of respect (my perspective) had been going on, intermittently, for close to a year. One Saturday morning, I’d fed the horses (with Elika’s help, of course), showered and dressed, and was right on schedule to leave for a presentation I was giving. Ten minutes before it was time to leave—my handouts and lunch and water and directions already in the car—I took Elika outside to let her have a few more minutes in the fresh air before spending the next four or five hours in the house.

She sniffed around for a couple of minutes, rolled in the grass, peed, and when I called her to go back in the house, you guessed it, she took off. She hadn’t done this for quite awhile, and so I was honestly surprised. I remember the oh-no-not-today sense of panic in my stomach. I called again, but she was engrossed in making power laps around the house. She eventually slowed down, but she wouldn’t go into the house, and when I would get close to her, she would lay her ears back, grin, and take off again.

I had reached my limit. I was frustrated, angry, hurt. I could not understand why Elika was doing this. I exercised her daily—long walks, games of chasing sticks and balls in the yard (she still hasn’t learned to bring them back), daily laps around the house. I treated her with love and respect. Why was she treating me this way?

I was overwhelmed. I was utterly defeated. I sat down on the ground and cried.

In a heartbeat, Elika was standing in front of me, gazing into my face, a worried expression on her own. “Elika,” I said, “You can’t do this anymore. You’re breaking my heart.” I went on, quietly explaining how I worried for her safety, how I needed for her to listen.

She moved closer. She wolf-washed my wet eyes and cheeks. She sat down next to me. I kissed her head. When I got up, she followed me into the house.

 

Years Later

In the nine years since that conversation with Elika, she has only run away once, and that was last year when a very randy boy dog showed up and asked her to take a spin. Who could blame her?

But that was the only time. From the moment I sat on the ground and talked to my sweet Elika, poured out my heart to her, she never broke it again.

Ten and a half years ago, when Elika was seven months old and told me that she was mine, I asked her why she had come to me. I had always been drawn to big dogs; I wasn’t sure what to do with a little white dog.

“What are you here to teach me?” I asked.

“About your wild nature,” she said.

And she’s been true to her word. Her wildness, her sheer, unfettered joy, has cleansed my heart. She’s older now, a little slower, but not much, and her eyes still shine with mischief. She will take off at full speed after a squirrel or chipmunk or rabbit, but will suddenly turn on her heel and trot back to me, that wild proud grin.

 

 

We animal lovers know that our animals do understand us. I would love to hear your thoughts and stories.  I hope you will be moved to share.

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And, yes, I know I need to start including photos. I’m going to learn how to do that next week.

 

 

 

I would love to hear your thoughts and stories. I hope you will be moved to share.

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