By Karen Land
Everyone kept asking me, “Do you think Goat will recognize you?”
As I was walking through the Bozeman airport with a dog leash in hand, I couldn’t help but imagine our soon-to-be reunion unfolding like a dramatic scene from a “Lassie Come Home” movie.
In 2004, I gave Goat, one of my retired sled dogs, to what I thought was a good, life-long home. Three weeks ago a friend stumbled across his picture on a Portland, Oregon dog pound website.
Unfortunately, since we parted ways, Goat has lived with many “masters.” I had no idea if he’d remember me or not, but I hoped he would.
I knew Goat to be a dog with a huge personality. He was a talker, always cocking his head to the side, puckering his lips together, and talking straight at me with a low “woo, woo, wooing.” His speech seemed just one bizarre step away from real human language. After a rough few years, I hoped Goat would still be attempting to communicate with his people friends.
“I have a dog coming in on this flight,” I told an airline employee. “Where do I pick him up?”
“Go to the airline desk,” she said. “They bring the animals to the desk, not baggage.”
There was a flurry of activity at the airport with family and friends greeting passengers and people retrieving their luggage. Three friends and I waited at the abandoned airline check-in desk for what seemed like forever. No Goat. The airport emptied out in a hurry. I was getting antsy. Finally, a uniformed woman came to the desk, hauling a cart full of luggage.
“I am here to pick up my dog,” I told the woman.
Her dumb look made my heart sink.
“There wasn’t any dog on this plane,” she answered.
“Yes, there was,” my friends and I all replied in unison.
“Well, I don’t have it here. They would have taken it to baggage.”
We all took off running to the other side of the airport.
When we got there, the baggage claim area was empty. One lone piece of “luggage” remained on the baggage carousel - a large dog crate.
I couldn’t believe they’d toss a dog on the carousel like he was a suitcase. I felt horrible that I wasn’t there to greet him.
Goat was calmly lounging inside of his crate, but when he saw us he stood up and thumped his tail against the plastic. He didn’t look right at me, but past me - towards the exit door.
I opened the crate, snapped the leash to his collar, and he lunged out of the box. There were no dramatic hugs or kisses, no Timmy and Lassie moments; it was obvious all Goat cared about was getting himself to the nearest tree - FAST.
For minutes, Goat stood like a statue with his back leg lifted, hosing down a fire hydrant. He seemed happy to be off the plane and out of his crate, but he was definitely still confused - until he saw my other sled dog, Borage.
Goat didn’t seem to recognize me right off the bat, but he went crazy over his Uncle Borage. For the first year and a half of his life, Goat and the rest of his siblings in the “cheese litter” followed Borage everywhere. Goat immediately fell into place at Uncle Borage’s side again. He seemed relieved to find something familiar, something good.
It wasn’t until a few days later at a friend’s party did Goat speak again.
I tied both Borage and Goat to trees in the yard while I talked and ate with a group of people inside of a screened porch. Every time I looked out to check on the boys, I saw Borage sound asleep in the grass with all four legs in the air (his famous pose) and Goat sitting up straight, staring in the direction of the house.
I just assumed Goat was watching the people, the activity, the party. But the first time I looked in his direction and our eyes met, Goat tilted his head to the side, pursed his lips, and strained to speak, letting out a long, low, “woo, woo, woo” in my direction.
All afternoon long, Goat talked to me whenever I’d look out the window. Not as dramatic as a Lassie moment, but still as sweet.