There are generally two types of folks I run into hiking in the national forest near our house. 1) Transplants with an appreciation for nature who carry water bottles, graphite hiking sticks, and often have a proliferation of bumper stickers on their cars. 2) Locals with an appreciation for the place they know who carry guns, sticks found along the trail, and often have an opinion about where the hunting is best.
Both kinds have dogs with them and Thistle and I like to visit with them all. A few weeks back, I ran into two young men who fell into the locals category. They had a hound and a second, mixed breed dog. They were, indeed, scouting spots to hunt and we chatted a minute about the dogs.
One young man allowed as how the hound was a hunting dog, while the mutt was just a good “side dog.” This was a new term for me, but a little more conversation led me to understand that a side dog is one that stays by your side, generally keeping you company. I LOVE this!
Turns out all my dogs have been side dogs. They aren’t for hunting or protection. They don’t herd other animals or track anything. They aren’t particularly well-trained. They’re just really good companions.
First there was Joe who licked the other side of my popsicle in the summer. Then there was Fred, a massive Airedale who technically had a job–to go wherever my brothers and I did on the farm. Then a series of rescues I wasn’t particularly attached to. After college there was Sammy–my first true, dog-love. And now Thistle who is the ultimate side dog. Even to the point that when I lay down, she curls into my side and grunts in contentment. Not quite an extra appendage, but almost.
Yes. Side dogs. Maybe they have the most important canine job of all. Embodying love.