Thursday, 15 November 2012

Blood on the Snow - Nel's Story

Blood on the Snow

 “Every seven steps I will let fall a drop of red blood and a white feather. These will show you the way, and if you follow this trail you can redeem me”. 
The Brothers Grimm
In February 2005 I fostered one of the most traumatised border collies that the Dog Rescue Centre had ever seen. I was advised to foster rather than adopt because of her severe problems.

I went to collect Nel, as I had then named her, late afternoon and it was getting dark when I brought her back to the forest. At the cottage, when I opened the car door, she ran off into the forest. I searched for her for two hours before calling up the centre for advice. I was told that it was futile to search any longer and that I should put her bed and food outside ,which I did - under the lean- to where the logs are stored. I did this for two nights and searched for her each day, to no avail. She came for the food and to sleep but I never saw her. She ran off as soon as I moved inside the cottage in the morning.

Then on the third day I woke early to find it had snowed. I knew I might now have a chance of tracing her tracks. When I got outside, with a stroke of amazing luck, I saw that she had nicked one of her paws and had left a trail of spots of blood. I followed this trail for a quarter of a mile and saw that she had found the corrugated tin den in a hidden part of the forest, made by the young sons of our neighbour. When I crept up to the entrance she ran off through a gap in the back of the den. While she was gone I filled up the gap and then waited some distance off behind one of the pine trees. Half an hour later she came back. This time I went into the den and saw that she had made a bed of bracken. There was no escape for her and I cried with the pity of it all – that she had been so abused in the first place.

I made my pact with her then. I would adopt her. I told her that no one would love her more than I would and that I would keep faith with her however difficult times might get. And they were tough. I had had border collies for over forty years but this one literally brought me to my knees.

She was completely shut down, wouldn’t lift her head, give eye contact, wag her tail or make any sound. She was terrified of noise, sudden movements, flapping clothes, and any time I reached down to pick up anything, she dropped into a defensive position. People told me she must be brain damaged.

It was six weeks before she came out from a corner of the room and months before she lifted her head, wagged her tail and made her first bark. I spent hours on the mountain practising recall on a long rope. When I let her off the lead in the forest she ran off if we encountered anyone else. Wherever we went she was on constant high alert and would do anything to avoid people, including scrambling up cliff faces and burrowing into thorny bushes.

Who knows what cruelty and neglect she endured that first year of her life. Whatever I taught her, she taught me much more - about patience and compassion. She is a wild but gentle spirit, and still, eight years later, she will not approach any human she does not know.

I don’t fully understand the immediate bond I felt with Nel. The woman at the rescue centre told me that despite what we think, the dog picks us. I'm glad she chose me.

I wrote this poem during those early days.
Brushing Nel

Holding fear from a past life,
you perceive each raised hand
a potential threat.

I show you comb and brush,
lay them as offerings at your feet
in ritual before we start.

Hand on the soft silk of your head,
I chant to the mad gong
of your beating heart.

Count the blessings of each stroke.
Fine hairs rise like incense smoke,
trust opening as a lotus.

Your tail a flap of prayer flags,
my heart a singing bowl.
Nel on Moel Siabod
Nel and our shadows

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