Mikhailya is our lovely Majenkir bitch, our proud, beautiful, happy borzoi. She is an athletic sight-hound, first and foremost, although not necessarily a thinking dog. That she is a Champion show dog, an adored, beloved pet, and a creature of indescribable beauty and sweetness who blesses our lives simply by being a part of it, are all secondary. She is a physical being first and foremost, and in that we fail her. It would be so much better if she could have a field where she could be out all day, running and playing with the other borzoi. Instead she has a back yard. We try to make it up to her in other ways, although nothing could ever substitute for what we lack. We are genuinely sorry for that but how we try.
Bob is very devoted to the borzoi, and in return, Mikhailya loves him fiercely. Every morning, she leaps and jumps wildly in the air and demands to be taken out for a ride in the van. She knows he will take her for a walk in the woods. Bob takes Mikhailya and the other borzoi for a vigorous walk every morning in the Watchung Reservations, a 2,000 acre park near our home. It is part of a large expanse of preserved natural forest that runs along the first ridge of the Watchung Mountains. This miracle, a preserved forest in one of the most densely populated places in the world on some its most expensive real estate, runs for several thousand acres and transverses the counties of northern New Jersey. We mortgaged ourselves deeply for this house we had to have, as much for its proximity to the park as its beautiful, contemporary design. Situated on high ground, its many large windows fill the rooms with light. Viewed from inside, one can only see the tops of the nearby trees. In the distance, there are more mountains, rising and falling into the distance. Its two-level design was well suited to the dogs, with a room downstairs that opens out onto a spacious, fenced backyard, all surrounded by a heavily wooded lot on the side of a mountain. It provided everything we wanted our home to have, if we could not have a field. Bob takes the borzoi out every morning for a vigorous walk in the nearby Park. Actually, it is more like a hike. Together, they go up hills and down ravines, cross bridges over water, and sometimes ford streams.
The tranquility of Watchung Reservations at dawn belies their robust history. Many old stories are hidden beneath the canopy of trees and along the trails that wind besides its streams and lakes throughout the ridge, if one had the time to search for them. It lies among many sites of Revolutionary War activities in neighboring towns. A main hiking trail passes a small cemetery from that period. Nearby along the main trail runs the Blue Brook, the main source of water for this particular ridge. Due to this readily available water supply, subsequent historic events were able to take place: settlements, business enterprises, and resorts, vestiges of which can still be seen today. A dam in one place near its source creates the lovely Surprise Lake, famous for its water-lilies, and whose splendid backdrop of trees creates the most lush fall foliage where we have posed for so many wonderful photographs with our borzoi. Blue Brook then flows onward deep into the forest. The Sierra Trail transverses the park, along with trails of its own, providing many walking and bridle trails from which to choose on any given day. You can either walk along the bank of Blue Brook itself in the ravine or take another trail and find yourself on the higher ground rising steeply on both sides above it.
Historically, Blue Brook played a key role in many past events, but none more so than in the farthest North-West corner of the park, in a site now known as The Deserted Village. In 1845, the land in this area was purchased by a wealthy business man named Daniel Felt. He created it to be a private Utopian community where like-minded people could live and work. Here, he built two dams on Blue Brook to supply water power for his mills. He manufactured paper for his successful stationery company that sustained the livelihood of the people who lived there. However, after several years the community was abandoned and sold at a great loss. In 1882, a wealthy New Jersey business man, Warren Ackerman, purchased it, again for Blue Brook. He planned to use the water for Plainfield, a large city nearby, and to create a summer resort of it because of its pristine beauty and tranquility, traits is has not lost to this day. He renaming it Glenside Park, after the name of the main road along which it can be found. In 1916, unfashionable and unsalvageable, it closed, never to be used again. In 1920, the County purchased the village and renamed it what had sadly become its official moniker, The Deserted Village. Ironically, it is today enjoying a renaissance as a “Four Centuries” designation, a listing in the State and National Registers of Historic Sites, an archaeological site, and a destination for borzoi.
Bob’s walk with the borzoi frequently follows a wide winding trail through the mountainside. Eventually, it intersects with Cataract Hollow Road, a small street that turns off Glenside Avenue, a main, county road that transverses the park. It is a brief walk down this narrow road, as absent of inhabitants now as it has been for nearly one century, that leads to that place known as The Deserted Village. Upon arriving there, one is always taken by it, by the spectacle of it suddenly appearing there, and what it is today, the vestiges of a vital community left behind in the forest.You can hear the sound of Blue Brook as you get closer to the village if you listen closely. In summer, the neighborhood around the houses is cooler than others usually are, for it is generously shaded with old forest trees. The borzoi enjoy going there very much. Walking throughout the village, you see how lovely it must have been at one time. Today, it consists of spacious houses and a large barn-like structure that served many purposes in the community. The village, even deserted, has the ambiance of old gentility.
Even today, when we walk through The Deserted Village with our borzoi, it feels like a contemporary neighborhood, one the inhabitants left suddenly that morning as if they were going to work and to which they would be returning that evening. The borzoi trot up gravel driveways, weave their way around the long abandoned flower beds, and enter the empty back-yards from where they look down the precipice at Blue Brook below, where the mill once stood. All the houses were built on higher ground. I wonder, what do they see? Do they know what was there? One by one, they turn away and trot back to the road. There, they rest along side a low stone wall, the remnants of an old foundation of a house long gone, recently identified as the one belonging to the Daniel Felt himself. They are visiting old friends.
It is on the Reservation’s winding hiking trails where the dogs come most alive. They think they are free or on a hunt. The two males, Paris and Casanova, trot ahead off leash but they do not let Bob out of sight for long. They always come running back together, nothing but happy to see him and Mikhailya. Mikhailya is never off leash, for she is not allowed to run free. Although once, Mikhailya became loose and she was gone for some time without Bob knowing where she was. The old Lab, Ebony, was on that walk, a walk that was to be her last. She was off lead when a deer sprang up and darted across their trail. Such adventure. The borzoi all bolted and tried to escape from Bob’s grip on their leashes. At the end, he had them all, except for Mikhailya’s. This was a dreaded disaster. Ebony chased after her – what ever was she thinking? Bob called and called, but it was in vain. The ever obedient Ebony ignored him, and Mikhailya was in hot pursuit of the deer. On and on she ran, deep into the forest, off all trails. Bob was running until he could not run any more. There was no sight of the big white dog with the smaller black dog at her feet. One would think they could be easily seen, that they would have stood out regardless of how far ahead they were. Surely, they would run, turn around and return. An hour of running and calling passed, but no dogs returned.
A long distance away, a cell phone rang. The veterinarian’s office phone number flashed across the caller ID screen. “Mikhailya and Ebony have been located”, a voice reported. I said, “Oh, that’s nice. Now, where is my husband?” So, I gave the person his cell phone number, and asked the dog’s rescuer to call my husband so he could come and get our dogs. So it came to be that Mikhailya and Ebony were found without any ill effects from their misadventure. However, Mikhailya’s next misadventure in the Watchung Reservation would not end so well.
Again, Mikhailya is a dog, but more so. She is a borzoi, a special, noble hound bred for hunting by sighting its game far in the distance not nearby at its feet or the ground. Upon seeing it, she will want to go there very quickly. Being so, she may not always think about her feet, where they are, and what is under them at any given moment. So it happened on one beautiful January morning during a hike, Bob and the dogs came upon a trail across which a large tree had fallen. One at a time, he carefully guided the dogs over it. Mikhailya was last, and without thinking, he turned his back as she was about to jump and walked on, expecting her to go over in the right place and follow him. However, she leaped over the trunk but not in the center where Bob had guided her and where the ground would be clear on the other side, but at the side of the trail, where there was debris, foliage and branches. When she landed, her legs became twisted among them and one leg snapped. With that she screamed a horrible sound from deep in her lungs that resounded through the Watchung Reservations like an animal’s death throes. Mikhailya’s leg had broken.
This was a terrible accident to have happened, deep in the woods. Bob was there with three large dogs, one of which could not walk. He fashioned a splint out of sticks and his scarf and began carrying Mikhailya, but he needed to take frequent rests because she is such a large dog. Casanova and Paris walked ahead off leash. The journey back to the van was interminable and exhausting. Finally, a man approached him walking on the trail in the opposite direction, and he kindly offered his assistance. With Bob’s help, they put Mikhailya over his shoulders, and he carried her all the way out of the woods to the main trail. The man waited with Mikhailya while Bob took the other dogs and returned with the van. Bob then raced her to the veterinary hospital where she was treated for her broken leg. Many long hours later, it was with tremendous gratitude to learn there was no underlying cancer in the bone. The break was caused by a careless misstep. Still, we understood a long, slow recovery lied ahead for Mikhailya, one of discomfort, limits and extreme confinement.
Mikhailya’s life in recovery will be very different from that to which she is accustomed. There will be no freedom of movement and the natural joyfulness she derives from that, only confinement and its associated depression. Mikhailya will find her injury with its subsequent helplessness and restrictions on her movement especially difficult to endure. Undoubtedly, the bone will heal, and it may even heal without any ill effects to her graceful movement ~ a movement so elegant she earned her Championship Dog title with five Majors. Yet it will come at a huge price for her in terms of her identity as a borzoi. The loss of mobility for anyone would be difficult under any circumstances. However, for Mikhailya, a borzoi, a breed of dog in which the breed standard explicitly states in its first paragraph that “special emphasis is placed on sound running gear”, the loss of mobility for six weeks will be emotionally devastating. To her it will feel like forever. She is not capable of understanding the concept of “temporary”. Moreover, this condition is completely contrary to her own identity as a borzoi: athletic, free, beautiful, and proud. The very sight of Mikhailya lying in her crate, her leg extended in its splint, a dull look in her eyes staring ahead but fixed on nothing, fills us with regret. It is a sad reminder that when doing your best for them, things can and do go wrong.