In all of the thousands of words and hundreds of posts that have been published on this blog, I’ve written very little about two of the friends who have given my husband and me the most love, devotion and life lessons that anyone could ever need or want. It occurred to me, when something happened at our house in the wee hours on Wednesday, that I may have written about world leaders and sports figures, reality stars and news anchors, but have very rarely mentioned the two guys who, as I see it from my front row seat, have been the best citizens of the world – our dogs. Before I get to the little incident that opened my eyes – again – to their incredible intelligence and selflessness, I’d like to tell you how we came to know them.
We’ve always had dogs in our family. My mom had a chihuahua when we were kids, not that the tiny breed would have been my first choice, but she loved that yappy little dog and we grew to tolerate her for mom’s sake. When my husband and I bought our first home, we lived with two German Shepherds. The male, Tanner, was my husband’s partner when he was the police department’s canine officer. The female was Centi. I don’t remember how she came into the fold, but Tanner had the hots for her and the two managed, by digging a tunnel between their kennels, to consummate their relationship and had one puppy. Tanner was huge, even for his breed. If you didn’t know him, he could scare the hell out of you. When he put on his special collar with his canine badge, he was no-nonsense, ready to work and catch the bad guys or find a lost child. At home, he believed that he was a lap dog and all too often, tested his theory by climbing onto my less than adequate lap. We lost him when he developed severe hip dysplasia and every kid in the neighborhood came by to offer their condolences.
After a time, we came home with a beagle who I named Joe. Now Joe was a real trip. He loved to ride in the car but behaved like a crazy banshee, doing his best to crawl into the driver’s seat and nearly killing us all in the process. Everyone within hearing distance came to know his houndy howl which he let loose with every time he heard a police or fire siren. My mom adored Joe, frequently taking him for sleep overs, and even buying him his own Snoopy pillow and blanket for those occasions. He was also an amazing escape artist, and neighbors would call us after he showed up at their doors looking for goodies. In his mind, every day was Halloween and treats were always there just for the asking. Just before his fourteenth birthday, he became very ill with congestive heart failure and, after months of vet visits and medications, we had to say goodbye to another friend.
Again, the house was too quiet, and on one Saturday morning, in November, 2002, my husband and I went to the Humane Society in Newington, Connecticut, to, you know, just look. While walking up and down the aisles of cages, I spotted two dogs who, amidst all of the noise and chaos, were quietly sitting in their kennel. When I approached them, they came over, carefully and cautiously, but curious about this human. We asked one of the volunteers if we could take the male into one of the meet and greet rooms, to see if he’d respond well to us and us to him. Within the first five minutes, we knew we had a winner. When we tried to find out just what kind of dog he was, the volunteers offered their varying opinions – he, and his sister, were part Shiba Inu, part Chow, part Akita, part German Shepherd – until we realized that no one really knew. The little paperwork they did have on him reflected that he’d been rescued in South Carolina and brought to Connecticut as part of a network of no-kill shelters. He was a mutt, and he was perfect. As luck would have it, his sister was adopted at the same time as her brother, so everybody was going home with someone who wanted them.
We named him Danny. While we were filling out the adoption papers we noticed that he was coughing and drooling so we asked for some medicine for kennel cough. That first night was a tough one for him and I spent most of it holding him up so that he could breathe. I believe that it was that night and that gesture that sealed the deal for both of us. He’s never let us down since, and believe me, that dog’s been tested. Within just a couple of weeks, I lost my mom and Danny spent hours, in the middle of some long nights, in my arms, his sweet, soft head soaked in my tears. When I became very ill, just a few short months later, a wonderful ICU nurse bundled me up so that my husband and Danny could rendezvous with me in the hospital parking lot. Nothing those doctors did or prescribed could have been better than those few moments on that snowy pavement. Thank you, Peggy.
When I was well enough, we began spending summers aboard our boat in Mystic. Danny always sat right up in the helm, sleeping up there when we were at the marina, and bright and alert, watching the GPS and the sea gulls, wearing his doggy life vest, when we would make trips out to Long Island Sound. He didn’t really care for the water, and the only times he swam were when he would slip off the swim platform and fall into the ocean, but he tolerated it and never complained.
We decided to retire and move to Florida, and Danny took the road trip as the best adventure he’d ever had. We stayed in hotels and motels along the way, and he was, quite frankly, better behaved than most of the guests. During the ten days we were holed up at the Comfort Suites in Orlando, awaiting the closing on the new house, Dan would sit for hours on the window ledge, watching all of the people in the swimming pool below our room. The day of the closing was brutally hot, and we told our realtor that only one of us could be inside at a time. Someone had to sit in the car with Dan, who was waiting for us and needed to be kept cool. The dear man told us to bring him into the conference room and, when we did, Dan curled up under the table, grateful for the air conditioning and the company.
Life in Florida was interesting, to say the least. It seemed that there were creatures at every turn whose only reason to exist was to kill us. Walking a dog amid a steady stream of water moccasins and alligators was completely foreign and challenging to all of us. Dan would walk the perimeter of our pool screen enclosure, making sure that nothing was lurking, just waiting to pounce on us, before venturing out to take care of business. In spite of the ever-present threats, we were determined to make this our home, having built our dream house, and life went on – with various weapons at the ready.
Danny became a mascot of sorts, always happy to greet guests, groundskeepers and delivery men. When asked what breed he was, we fumbled for an answer, and settled for Heinz 57. One day a worker came by to repair some bathroom tile and said that Danny looked like one of those Dingo dogs. I told him I agreed but that he couldn’t be because Dingos are from Australia and, besides, they’re wild. While the man messed around with grout and sealer, I decided to Google the Dingo. Then came the light bulb moment. Not only did he more than resemble the Dingo, but I found that there is, in fact, an American Dingo – the Carolina Dog, the Dixie Dingo. We now knew what our four-legged friend was, after 4 years. Now I was on a mission. I found a few websites with breeders who had puppies for adoption. I convinced my husband that Danny needed a little brother and made the call to the closest breeder, in Aiken, South Carolina.
Miss Jane Gunnell answered the phone and told me that she had a precious little boy who would be perfect for us if we didn’t mind imperfection. She also told me that we would have to email a picture of Danny so that she could see that we knew what a Dingo was and, in fact, had one. We obviously passed muster and she called back, telling us to come on up. Now, I have to tell you that neither my husband or I had ever heard of Aiken, South Carolina. Nothing, including our own ignorance, however, was going to stand between us and that puppy, so, after enlisting the help of Mapquest, we packed our stuff, and Danny’s, and headed up I-95.
After checking into a nearby hotel, we made the short drive to Miss Jane’s house. She greeted us – well, she greeted Danny, we were just his escorts in her eyes. She approached him like people should approach a strange dog – slowly, softly and without eye contact. When she got to within a few feet of him, Danny raised his paw, his offer of a handshake, the two made eye contact, and I knew that we were going home with that puppy. Danny had assured Miss Jane that we were worthy.
After the four of us passed through her house, we walked into a backyard full of Dingos, dozens of them – all ages, all sizes, and in all of the colors they carry. There, in the middle of them all, was the most adorable five pound ball of fur I’d ever laid eyes on. I picked him up, brought him to my shoulder and he kissed my ear. His name is Nicholas – Nicky, little St. Nick – a caramel colored angel. Miss Jane explained that he was the runt of the litter, that he had some problems with his back legs, possibly having been hurt during birth and that he was just about totally deaf. I didn’t care. He was with the right people. We’re good at caring for animals and he was our “special needs” kid. After getting all the necessary paperwork done, and with a list of instructions in hand, Miss Jane handed us a tiny dog carrier, complete with a soft blanket, a stuffed toy and a big red ribbon. Nicky was going home.
We stayed an extra day in Aiken, letting the two dogs get to know each other a little bit better before making the drive back to Florida. We took a little tour around town and then something else happened – we fell in love with Aiken. With the four-legged ones in the back of the SUV, my husband and I spent most the ride back discussing how much we would get on the sale of our house and when we would be back to look for a new home. It took just over a year, but we finally sold and built and bought, and moved to what I know in my heart is our forever place.
We’ve been here for just over five years, and we’ve never regretted the move. As most of you know, we added to our menagerie by adopting three horses from the Equine Rescue of Aiken, and Danny considers himself the farm manager. He looks out for his younger brother, making sure that he come in the house when we call, because Nicky can’t hear us, well if I scream his name loudly enough and clap my hands, he’ll look around to see where the noise is coming from, but that’s all he’s ever going to do. You could set off fireworks in the house and he wouldn’t even wake up, but we get it and it really doesn’t matter. His hind legs pose a problem for him and wood floors are a real challenge. He has to be fed on a rug or he slips down into an awkward split. Give Nick some traction, though, and he’s a terror. He and Danny will wrestle out in the backyard as if there’s a gold medal up for grabs. All in all, he’s sweet and innocent and pure, and that’s what he does best. It’s more than enough.
Danny and Nicky now have a yard without any animals that attack and bite. Once a week, Danny and our Saddlebred, Charlie, have a senior management meeting where they discuss their respective pack and herd problems. We don’t ask about what goes on, because it’s really none of our business, but we do know when the meetings are adjourned, because the two of them will start playing, usually chasing each other, until one or both gets too tired and wanders off. They make it all look so easy and good, and we’ve learned a lot just by watching all of the interaction between two species which, in any other setting, would be enemies – predator and prey. In fact, none of them seem to notice their obvious differences, and we’ve caught more than one dog and horse sleeping near the other.
About this morning. Normally the two dogs sleep on the bed with us, but, because I haven’t been feeling well, we’ve been closing the bedroom door, leaving them to find somewhere else – a couch, a chair, or the guest bedroom – where they can catch some sleep. Today, though, at about 3AM, Danny got into the bedroom. Don’t ask me how he did it, but somehow he managed to open the door and began whining and pulling on the covers. In our very groggy state and, still wondering how he got that damn door to open, we heard a chirping sound. The smoke detector in the den was beeping, not because there was a fire, but because the battery was dying. Danny circled us, then woke up his little brother and moved towards the back door. We let him and Nicky out, while we got out a ladder and replaced the battery. Dan wouldn’t settle down until he was let back in, checked to make sure that the sound had stopped and that we were okay. I don’t know why it bothered him in the first place. Things beep in a house all the time – microwaves, coffee pots, oven timers – but this was different, I guess. It may not sound like a big deal, but it was to us. I don’t think we’re making more out of this than it deserves. There’s nothing in a dog’s DNA, no instinct, that tells them to respond to a beeping smoke alarm. He heard something that just wasn’t right and he did what he thought was necessary. He’s a quiet guy most of the time, and when he’s alarmed, well, we are, too. This may have been only a drill, but I have no doubt about what will happen during a real emergency. I have a lot of things to thank him for, to thank all of those dog for, and I’m adding this to the list.
In case you’re curious about the American Dingo, here’s a link to Miss Jane’s website.