When it comes to mystical phenomena such as extra sensory perception (ESP) Linda is more believing than I. Yet I admit there are events which seem otherwise unexplainable. Some believe that animals are especially endowed with ESP, although their early reactions to such things as storms and earthquakes are more likely related to higher levels of biological sensitivity to low-level natural disturbances. Even so, some events of prescient animal behavior strain scientific explanation.
I had a dog when I was growing up in Western Nebraska. We got him when I was about 11, but I don’t remember from where. We lived in an apartment in Terrytown, a small residential community on the North Platte River sandwiched between Scottsbluff and Gering just below Scottsbluff National Monument (referred to as the Bluff by the locals). He was a mutt, mostly beagle, and although his name was Terry, we always called him Puppy.
Terrytown had no leash law so dogs could run free. Puppy was seldom on a leash and usually with me when I was out playing. One of his favorite haunts was the woods behind the line of apartments where he loved to chase rabbits and squirrels. The woods also were rife with ticks in spring and early summer. Puppy slept beside my bed in an old easy chair, and I sometimes woke in the middle of the night to feel something crawling on me.
Between the upper end of Terrytown and just below the Bluff was an area known as the badlands, a miniature version of South Dakota’s Badlands National Park. It was a sandstone and clay eroded landscape of steep hills and deep twisting ravines. My friends and I would go exploring, sometimes finding bits of small marine fossils. One particular day we had crossed over to the far side to the base of the Bluff. As usual Puppy was along chasing up and down the hills and through the ravines. It was getting late and we needed to get back. My friends decided to go around the badlands whereas I thought it would be faster to cut across. As I made my way through the darkening ravines the setting sun created eerie scenes of long shadows and strange shapes. I soon wished I had gone with the others. Puppy must have sensed my unease. He stayed very close to me which provided some comfort. Once we were through the badlands he again chased around as he had done before.
On another occasion, a winter Sunday, my family with Puppy along had gone to visit friends near Alliance, about 45 miles northeast of Scottsbluff. Late afternoon it began to snow and by the time we were heading back in the dark visibility was poor and the road was icy. The first 15 miles or so of the old highway out of Alliance through the sand hills had many sharp curves and dips. My sister Ursula and I were in the back seat of the car sleeping, or trying to sleep. As soon as we left Alliance Puppy became agitated and would not remain still, jumping around and occasionally whining. As Dad was negotiating one of the many curves he lost control of the car and we skidded off the highway. It was a frightening moment, but no one was hurt and the car was undamaged. A few minutes later another car came along and the men in the car helped us get back on the road. Once underway Puppy lay down, was quiet, and slept the rest of the drive home. Was his earlier agitation caused by a premonition that something was to happen?
After three years in Terrytown we moved to our own house in Scottsbluff. Scottsbluff had a leash law so Puppy could not run free as before. He did not like being on a leash. We unhooked the leash when we played with him in the back yard. One day while playing he ran away and did not come back for a few hours. It began a pattern. He would play awhile, then when no one was close, he would begin to slink away, head held down and tail between his legs like he knew he was doing wrong. When we became aware of what he was doing we would call him but he would run off. He would be gone for increasingly longer periods of time. We often searched for him. One day he ran off and we never saw him again. I lost a true companion.
When I remember Puppy or see some of my relatives with their dogs I can almost convince myself that I need a dog. Linda and I are “cat people,” having a feline around for most of our married years. Ironic in that before we were married we talked about having an English sheep dog. But dogs require much more attention than cats, especially large dogs. When traveling, even for a couple of days, you either take them along or have them kenneled, whereas with cats you put out a bowl of food and water and a litter box or two and you’re set! In spite of my fondness for cats, I concede that as animal companions independent aloof cats are simply not as playful, affectionate, loyal and protective as dogs. And if cats have any prescience about impending doom they keep it to themselves. Then I see Cleo, our kitty, snuggled up on my lap as I write this, and I conclude that she provides about all the animal companionship I need.
(Pete Korsching is a regular columnist for the Nevada Journal. He lives in Nevada with his wife Linda.)