It was the same old road. Dust rose from it in clouds and a late-summer haze shimmered against a robin's egg blue sky. There was movement in the grass by the road and a rake-thin silver-furred she-dog stepped tentatively out onto the road. Following behind her came two pups, stumbling over each other and playing with her tail. She headed onto the road, nudging the pups ahead of her. She stopped and sniffed the faint breeze, and looked at the dilapidated farmhouse in the distance, memories washing over her.
Nearly six years before, the Gilners had bought a puppy as a companion to their aging border collie Jack. They named her Connie. The Gilners had an old farmhouse with a pasture in which they kept a small flock of sheep. Connie was half rough collie, part malamute, the collie giving her an innate sense of shepherding which she took to quickly, following Jack everywhere, learning the skills of a good sheepdog. On cold winter nights when Jack would curl up beside the fireplace in the house, Connie chose to sleep outside ever watchful for predators that might harm the flock.
One night Connie was awakened by a strong stench in the air. She peered into the darkness and saw a dark shape slinking toward the edge of the flock. Padding softly, she headed around behind the creature. Just as the lithe shadow was crouched on its haunches to spring, Connie leapt onto its back, sinking her fangs into its shoulder. It let out a screech of fury and lashed out with razor-sharp claws, slashing her side. Nevertheless, Connie hung on grimly as it writhed and yowled. Suddenly, the farmhouse door opened and a beam of yellow light cut through the dark. There was a shot and, with a final twist, the beast wriggled out of her grasp and sped off into the night. Jeff Gilner hurried over to where Connie lay, all strength gone from her. Bending down, he shined the flashlight over her shoulder and saw a jagged gash in her side. The ground under her was wet with blood and she lifted her head weakly and tried to wag her tail. He gave her a light pat on her broad head.
- "Good girl, Connie, I'm so proud of you. Let's get you inside where it's warm."
He lifted her gently in his arms and took her back inside the house and laid her down beside the fireplace. Mrs. Gilner came hurrying downstairs.
- "What happened? I heard a shot-" she gasped when she saw Connie's bloody form lying limply on the floor and rushed to her side. "What'll we do, Jeff? Is she hurt bad?"
- "I think she'll be alright if she stays in here with us until she's a bit older." He turned and patted Connie's side gently, "That's my girl, Connie. That's my girl. You just rest now and it'll be just fine."
Connie laid her head on the warm hearthstones and drifted off to the sound of his soothing voice.
For the next few months, Connie's strength came gradually back. When she was four, she reached her adult weight of almost a hundred pounds; outweighing Jack by over twenty pounds. Her coat was sleek and her eyes gleamed with robust health as she patrolled her flock, keeping them safe from harm. The deep gouges she had received from the mountain lion were now just faint silvery scars hidden under her luxurious silver and white coat. Summer passed on to another winter and Mrs. Gilner received an urgent letter from the East Coast. Her aging parents wanted her to live with them in their stately manorhouse in Virginia as soon as possible. There was one thing however, they would not tolerate dogs on the premises. Mrs. Gilner found a friend of hers in town who wanted to take Connie and Jack and they left, selling the sheep and the farm.
Jack immediately settled into his new surroundings, lazing on the couch or in his favorite sun spot, begging for choice morsels from the table and halfheartedlly chasing her three cats around the house and yard. For Connie it was a different thing altogether. Not having enough room to spend her pent up energy, she began to be destructive, chewing furniture and pillows, clawing the cherry bedposts in the old lady's room, tearing into things and terrorizing the cats so that they dared not come out when she was in one of her moods.
Soon the kindly lady got tired of this behavior and brought Connie to a shelter where she was put in a cramped cage with barely enough room to turn around in. Connie lie down with a sigh as the cage door was latched and sniffed her bowl disinterestedly. Once it was night she looked around to see if there was a way out. She scratched under the door and sniffed around the walls but found no weakness there. Bunching her powerful haunch muscles she sprang up against it again and again, causing the chain link to clank and rattle. Finally giving up, she circled the small space and lie down, resting her chin on her paws.
The next morning a family with two children entered the room, looking along the cages for the perfect dog. One of the children, a little boy tugged on his mother's arm, "Mommy, mommy! I want that one!" Connie raised her head as the little boy and his mother came her direction. She rose and pricked her ears curiously, she had never been this close to a human child and her curiosity was perked. She tilted her head to the side as they stopped bofore her cage door and the boy tries to stick his fingers through the chain link. His mother grabbed his hand back quickly, "Tommy no! How do you know that dog won't bite you?" Holding his hand again, they moved past to a cage with a little Beagle puppy in it. Connie lie back down but her eyes still watched the little boy as he squealed happily when the pup licked his face. The boy's mother smiled happily and they took the puppy and left.
Ever watchful for a chance, Connie paced her cage restlessly, just waiting for the opportune time to make good her escape. That chance came one sunny day when all the larger dogs were put in outdoor kennels for the day. The young man came into the room and went along the row of cages, taking out the larger dogs one at a time and leading them to the large kennels out back. When Connie's turn came, she let him open her cage door and get the lead on her collar and walked calmly beside him as they went out the back door. Once outside, though, it was a different matter altogether. She waited until they reached what was to be her kennel and bolted suddenly, snapping the lead from his grasp and dashing down the back road. She glided over a fence and dashed through a field, never looking back until she reached the shading trees of the forest. Panting lightly, she sat down beneath the roots of a large cedar and sniffed the air. She smelled water nearby and followed her nose to the source; a small broken down well near a dilapidated shack.