Norah’s a swimmer, not just a fetch-the-stick kind of swimmer, but an I-can’t-see-her-anymore, she’s-been-gone-for-an-hour, the-neighbors-called-to-say-she’s-headed-for-the-straits kind of swimmer.
One morning on the island we’re walking to my parent’s house at low tide, and while Josie and I turn over rocks looking for tiny crabs Norah leaves land to swim after a seagull. The crabs all scurry into the water and mud or under other rocks before we can catch them. All except the hermit crabs that stop where they are and retreat into their shells. Josie picks one up and pets it with her index finger.
Thirty minutes later, we’re done playing with crabs but Norah’s still gone. I scan the water looking for that tiny dot of a blond head on the horizon. Once she’s offshore, once her feet have left the rocks, we can call her all we want, but she will not come. She’s irretrievable. We’ve thought about leashing her on the beach but she loves the long swim so much and our fear of her drowning doesn’t seem enough to keep her from it. Instinctually she must know when she’s getting tired, right? We’re trying to trust that she will come back even if it’s an hour or so later.
This time when I spot her head I also see the brown heads of three otters. These aren’t the cute little sea otters that float on their backs, cracking open clams. These are river otters, overgrown brown rats that live in family groups of a dozen or so. There’s an island rumor that they lure dogs into deep water where they attack with their claws.
One otter dives and pops up further out. The other two stay at her sides – she’s surrounded. I think I’ve mentioned before that Norah is not really my favorite, beautiful, dream dog. She’s good with kids and nice enough, but she’s a black hole of screeching, whining neediness. People have recommended training, but really, I just don’t care. I’m trying to convince an almost three year old to hold my hand in parking lots, to wipe when she’s done with the potty and to use her words instead of her fists. And, after living with a dog who had a bad habit of biting people, a little (or a lot) of screeching doesn’t seem like a trainable offence.
Even so, Norah has grown on me. She’s become part of the family. I’d be sad to see her go if she slipped under the water never to return. But I cannot handle the thought of death by otter. I cannot handle the thought of her suffering. I cannot handle the thought of her blood spilled on the sand.
An otter dips under the water and pops up a few feet further out. It looks back at us and back at Norah. It dips and pops up again. Even though I know it will do no good I stand on the beach screeching Norah’s name. Once, I think she turns to me. I think she hears me but then she’s swimming out after the otter again. I yell her name over and over and over “norahnorahnorah.” She turns her head but it never lasts.
After watching her paddle after the otters for 15 minutes I have to leave. I take Josie up the stairs to my parent’s house and leave Paul to the dog. When I get to the top I can’t help but watch from the deck. I try to let it go; to leave it up to fate.
Forty-five minutes later, Norah crawls up on shore unharmed, thin and shivering from the cold. She trots up the path to the house and gives me a good shake and her usual what’s your problem look. I realize how similar that look is to the one I give her when she’s screeching at me. I pat her head and she walks past me without a hint of neediness to her favorite spot on the deck where she stretches out in the warm sun.