My good dog Moses Mordecai, a distinguished English Setter, was the first and, as far as I know, only official Preservation Dog for the City of Raleigh. Moses was my assistant as I carried out my duties as the first Historic Preservation Planner for the city, and he accompanied me to our office on Mordecai Square, where he would sleep under our desk when he wasn't greeting visitors or looking for a hot date in the nearby Pilot Mill Village.
Moses always rode shotgun on field visits, and his job description included checking out the interiors of important but derelict historic buildings. Occasionally this caused him great consternation, such as the time I asked him to go into the pre-Arts Together Tucker Carriage House on St. Mary's Street. He went on in as asked and charged out about 15 seconds later, announcing that the biggest black snake in Wake County was reposing in what is now one of the dance studios. In all our expeditions around Raleigh, no one ever said a cross word to me, although I have no doubt that Moses would have been mortified if he had been obliged to bite someone.
When we finished up our day at the office, we would trek out to MacNair's Country Acres where our little bay mare, Diana, was anxiously awaiting the evening agenda. During the months of long daylight, that agenda often included adventures in the woods and fields surrounding MacNair's. The three of us would strike out looking for bluebirds, bats and butterflies, and have wonderful long canters along old farm roads.
The way back to the barn led us past the neighboring farmer's hog pen where the hogs, jokers that they were, would see us coming and emit raucous squeals while banging on their metal feed troughs in an effort to make Diana spook and bolt. Unlike most other horses, she would skitter past the pen, but one afternoon when Moses was detained at the vet, she flatly refused to do it. No matter what I tried, she would not pass the Evil Hogs without her loyal guard dog leading the way. So we had to turn around and retrace the long way back to the barn.
Moses and Diana were the forerunners of a series of favorite dogs and horses in our household. Memories of them are associated with memories of a more laid-back time in Raleigh, when three friends could take care of each other on long, happy rambles through a peaceful landscape.
Linda Harris Edmisten, Raleigh
I remember that first day. We'd gone to the shelter with Charley's new blue leather leash and the tags that carried her name. In my head, the whole thing was supposed to go in slow motion: She'd walk through that back door into the lobby, a jump in her step that said "I'm going home today." Surely someone would shake my hand.
Instead, the shelter help walked into the lobby and dumped the 4-month-old hound mix into my arms.
And she was ours.
Charley had spent a month and a half at the APS of Durham. Story goes, they found her wandering around Duke's campus alone. When she came into the shelter, she flopped right down to the floor. She wouldn't go anywhere, couldn't do anything. She was too scared.
"Brindle hound mix," her online profile read. "Needs a patient home."
Charley seemed a perfect complement to our young family. We could give her the patient home she needed, my wife and I figured. We'd just patiently wait until she blossomed into an outgoing, fun-loving dog.
I got the first call from our landlord two weeks later. Our neighbors downstairs had complained that Charley was barking whenever we left. A recording of Charley while we were out confirmed that she wasn't just barking, she was howling, screaming, crying. Charley, we discovered, had developed separation anxiety.
The next three months were tense, desperate and trying. They were filled with more complaints from the neighbors, warnings that Charley might have to be removed from our apartment, and excuses to not leave home for fear that she would act out.
They were also filled with trips to the vet, to puppy classes, to a behaviorist and to the day care, all to get help for Charley. Everywhere we went, people were so gracious and helpful. They offered their tips, they sympathized with our situation. And they all fell for Charley; crazed as she could become when we were gone, she was a darling to be around, and everyone loved her unique tiger-stripe coloring.
But no matter what we tried, we just couldn't find the cure for Charley.
I still remember the day I thought about putting the listing up on Craigslist. I'd spent enough time worrying for this young dog, I thought to myself. If I had to choose between my own sanity and that of a dog, I had to choose my own. We tried to give Charley our patience, but our patience had run out.
I didn't post that listing. Instead, we decided to keep up the fight for Charley. We decided to get whatever help we could for her, to go through whatever exercises we needed to for her.
And here we are, half a year later, Charley asleep at my feet. Is she perfect? No. After all, she's still a puppy. But she's learning, and she's growing, and she's gaining confidence and trust. Because she finally received that one thing her original owner wouldn't give her: The patience she needed to acclimate to the world.
Sam Oches, Durham
Life as a stray on the streets of Fayetteville must have been risky business, I'm sure, but somehow the little dog wasn't hit by a car, didn't die from eating pathogen-loaded garbage, and avoided being shot by someone angered at the dirty, smelly, disfigured dog in their backyard.
Someone brought her to the Fayetteville shelter, where it was risky business, part 2. Because of overcrowding, dogs there were given room and board for three days; for those unadopted or not reclaimed, there was no fourth day.
True to their name, Triangle Sheltie Rescue beat the clock and brought her to Raleigh, where the huge clean-up process began. Her coat, long neglected, was shaggy, filthy and full of parasites. She had a shiny, dark gray, banana-sized tumor hanging down from behind her left ear, melanoma gone wild. And she stank beyond belief.
This was the dog we adopted. Dogs adopted from rescue groups, as a rule, come with no background information for the new owners, to protect the privacy of the previous owner. And dogs adopted from shelters generally have no background information to share, as they usually have no tags or microchip. This makes her the canine equivalent of a pharmacological double-blind study, having been passed from shelter to rescue, to anonymous from unknown. Triangle Sheltie Rescue gave her the name McKenzie.
She is also about the only dog to come with a precaution. Her pictures and write-up on the rescue's adopt-me site began: "Warning! The following photos might be disturbing." Yes, big fat tumors have that effect on some people.
Now she is thoroughly cleaned up, a sweet-smelling beauty whose good looks were restored by a veterinary surgeon and enhanced by a groomer, and whose manners—hers and mine, actually—were polished in obedience class. Little kids squeal to their mommies that they want to pet the doggie, young women kneel down to pet her and ask me her name, guys guess (incorrectly) at her breed—usually miniature collie or border collie—and say she looks like Lassie. It's a different life in a new world for McKenzie, and I sometimes wonder how, or even if, she reconciles then and now. Cesar Milan says dogs live in the moment; Temple Grandin disagrees, saying dogs have a perspective on things.
McKenzie's perspective on it all? I have no idea. A pure-bred, she was likely purchased from a breeder four or five years ago by someone who cared enough about her to have her spayed and housebroken. But then something happened, and I suspect it was the melanoma, growing from strange to frightening to freakish proportions, that led to her abandonment.
Several times a day, we walk down to the end of the street at the proper ends of our leash, though I can't determine who is walking whom. We reach the intersection and pause before turning back. We can see a mile south from here, taking in The Flying Burrito, then downtown Chapel Hill and the campus beyond that. Farther south from this perspective, a million miles away, is Fayetteville.
Bill Kirk, Chapel Hill
Diamond knows we're leaving soon and she doesn't want us to go. From upstairs, we hear her SOS—the long-toned wails and meowy siren moans that signal the dragging has begun. Paris and I exchange a look across the table—the exaggerated, wide-eyed, pouty lower-lipped faces of a cartoon mom and daughter.
"Poor little thing," she says. "She's just a big old baby."
Our cat girl is at it again. I know that when I go upstairs, I'll find shirts strewn all over the floor—anywhere from one to a dozen.
The oh-so-sorrowful crying begins when we're having breakfast. That's when Diamond raids Paris' closet, taking shirts one by one from a neatly folded stack and dragging them all over the house. She pulls them down the hallway to other rooms, struggling to straddle each one without stepping on it. Having a mouthful of shirt does nothing to muffle the raw, aching drama of her distress. When she comes downstairs, we comfort her—scooping her up, holding her close and calling her Sweet Dimey Lou. She's pacified and purring, for a little while, but it's fleeting. Our darling little dragamuffin knows the truth: Soon we'll be gone, and she's already missing us, especially her girl Paris. She leaves us—compelled to resume her ritual—towing a shirt or two downstairs, where we helplessly watch. She looks so pitiful waddling without her usual grace and trademark swagger. I wish I knew what she was thinking. If I were a Cat Whisperer I'd know just what to do, but I'm not, and we're all feeling a little heartbroken.
When we get home, we'll find more displaced shirts. Sometimes she will have moved them from where they were when we left that morning. We gather them up and put them on Paris' desk, and by the end of the week there is a huge pile to be refolded and returned to the closet.
I find Diamond sleeping on my bed and I lean in close to her. She's warm and her fur smells like soap. I pick her up and she relaxes and goes limp like a ragdoll. She lies in my arms upside down, puts her paws up and purrs.
At bedtime, I tuck them in. Diamond snuggles next to Paris and nestles in the crook of her arm, like a little cat sister. Lying on her back and purring, with her eyes half-closed and dreamy, with her velvet paws resting on top of the cover, she looks like a storybook cat. The hair on her chin is sparse and worn out from kisses—loved off like The Velveteen Rabbit's. We ooh and ah and exclaim how beautiful she is, and tell her how much we love her. For now, she surrenders to this pure bliss moment of belonging. I turn out the light and hope that their dreams are sweet.
Sharmin Mirman, Carrboro
Ever since Henry was a puppy he has loved flowers. Since the day I brought this clumsy, wrinkly, lab-retriever mix home, he has been forcing me to stop at every flower and let him enjoy. Once he grew to 109 pounds, I realized we were stopping to smell the flowers whether or not I wanted to.
Sometimes it's a deliberate whiff. Other times it's purposefully scooting over to the edge of the sidewalk to quickly graze the sweet flowers with the side of his face as we continue moving. I've watched him pluck a pretty flower from the stem and swallow it whole (much to the disappointment of residents who may have recently planted said flower). Or, on certain days, it's face-planting directly into the flowers: head down, butt straight up in the air, tail vigorously wagging out of genuine doggy bliss.
Last week, it was a flower-face-plant kind of a morning. It wasn't until Henry and I arrived home that I noticed my four-legged flower connoisseur's left eye beginning to swell shut. It eventually resembled a permanent wink on his already ridiculously adorable dogface. My boyfriend and I soon realized that Henry's flower-sniffing habit had finally caught up with him. He had been stung by a bee.
On our morning walks after that he steered clear of any flowers or plants, often walking sideways while watching the foliage for any lurking, buzzing evil creatures. Eventually, though, the aroma was too much to handle and he gave in. Cautiously, he approached a particularly appealing patch of daisies and took a good long sniff. He looked back at me with a sense of pride that was truly human-like and moved on with a little more skip in his step. It amazed me how simply Henry conveyed the importance of stopping to smell the roses every day; even when life has left you stung, swollen and a little timid, it's still worth trying again.
Maureen Holdsworth, Durham
I've known and loved many dogs. Most dog lovers my age (38) can likely say the same, but when I say many, I mean more than most. Around 11 years ago the number of dogs I came to know and love began to multiply at a pace faster than my memory can hold.
Working for the Animal Protection Societies of both Durham and Orange counties had me interacting with and getting to know hundreds of dogs. Next I added volunteering with the Coalition to Unchain Dogs. Finally, as co-owner of Bull City Pet Sitting, an Indy readers' Best of the Triangle, I have now known and loved probably thousands of dogs.
I give you this history as a way to quantify that I know dogs. I can read a flick of the head, a lick of a tongue, the wag of a tail, but when one of my own dogs was trying to tell me something last year, I had no idea what she was saying.
Lyla, a big, black and beautiful Shepherd mix adopted from the Orange County APS about 10 years ago, is what those of us who really know dogs call "a heart dog." Her place in my life and in my heart fills up more space than all four of my other dogs. Lyla is wonderful in many ways, but she is also very difficult in others. Her prey drive is so strong that she has broken through a window, eaten window sills, dug through carpet, gotten bit and stung, broken or lost almost all of her teeth and, when we bought our home, forced us to erect a $5,400 Lyla-proof fence, which she managed to breech three years later.
Spring 2010: Lyla starts acting strangely inside the house. She's pacing constantly, paying extra attention to the baseboards and floor registers. After a week of waiting out this bizarre behavior, watching it escalate into whining while pacing, we think, given her prey drive, something has taken up residence in our crawl space. We set a couple of humane traps.
Another week of neurotic pacing, and the most we've caught are flies on the cat food bait. A scheduled trip sends us out of the house for a few days, and my business partner/ pet sitter reports Lyla is still pacing.
Home again to more pacing. Lyla is exhausted yet she's barely sleeping. She is so worked up that she vomits her food. I am dreading the appointment I need to make with the vet, where I'm certain they'll tell me she has a brain tumor.
One evening three weeks into the pacing, I notice water on the kitchen floor. A good push on the Pergo plank sends water squishing up from below.
The water supply line to the icemaker had sprung a leak just below the floorboards. It had been leaking for three weeks. The entire kitchen had to be gutted.
The moment the water was turned off, Lyla slept like she hadn't in weeks.
Heather Brown, Durham
She was truly the ugliest kitten ever returned to our Northern California SPCA. While volunteering on weekends, a scrawny, flea-infested, 8-week-old kitten with patches of missing hair was returned to us at closing time. Since all of our foster parents had already picked up, I had to take this pitiful-looking creature home for the week.
My well-mannered, clean, beautiful cat, Sabrina, was 13 at the time and was not happy when she realized I had done the unthinkable—I brought a homeless kitten into our well-ordered world. Needless to say, within the week we both fell in love with her, but only after a trip to the vet, a flea dip and several thorough combings. I named her Whitney because of her vocalizing prowess, and she grew to be a rambunctious and delightful kitten with gorgeous green eyes and a silky satin black coat. Whitney also quickly put on weight, earning the nickname Little Piggy.
After my marriage a year later, we discovered Little Piggy had a fondness for attacking unsuspecting toes while circling our bed. We would see the top of her black tail making the circuit, with my husband humming the theme to Jaws. She was aptly renamed The Pig-Shark.
The Pig-Shark was with us for 21 years, and while her toe-stalking days were over many years ago, I still chuckle when I recall that black tail fin circling the bed and the quick strikes. She recently passed away peacefully in our loving arms.
I urge everyone to consider rescuing the ugliest kitten or the lonely older cat from our many wonderful shelters here in North Carolina.
Deena B. Wegner, Chapel Hill
Every detail was planned. When your time was up, you would let me know, and we would calmly go to West Point on the Eno for one last slow walk through the trees and a picnic by the river. After, we would drive to the animal hospital, where Dr. Cagle would expertly deliver an injection to end your fitful days of body pain. We would hold you gently yet securely as you drifted off to final sleep.
But it didn't happen that way. Despite days and months and years of imagining how your last moments with us would be spent, I came home to find your lifeless form among evidence that you looked for us, hoping not to pass alone. I'm so sorry I wasn't there.
Without you, every corner of the house was empty, and your 110 pounds of fur and galumphing was suddenly so evidently missing. We scheduled too many memorials to desperately hang on, spreading your ashes in all your favorite haunts—all rivers, so odd since you never really swam, more wallowed. For 10 years you were my faithful companion, and it seemed impossible that my broken heart would ever heal. While I knew we would certainly open our home and hearts again to another someday, it seemed almost like cheating.
Momma B and I started volunteering with animal transport, the underground railroad for fur citizens. A chain of drivers pass animals from car to car in hour-long legs, bringing them from shelters in the rural South to animal foster groups and forever homes in the North. We met many of your kin in need of homes and eventually came to realize that, with our means, we needed to take another in. In your memory, we contacted German Shepherd Rescue and prepared to foster. That is when we met your new "brother."
At an adoption event, we were asked to watch a scrawny, mangy senior dog named King. We learned and then explained to prospective adopters that he had been one day away from death when he was pulled from the shelter, collar embedded in his neck, 25 pounds underweight, open wounds. Despite the abuse, he was generally healthy and amazingly social and loving. And after telling and re-telling his story to others, your mom and I looked at one another and sighed, "This is our dog."
Re-christened Kingsley, our new boy visited Dr. Cagle four times in the next three months. He ate Mom's pantyhose. He broke a canine tooth trying to escape from his crate. He jumped out a second story window. Much to his detriment, Kingsley took his job as Number One Herder and Protector quite seriously, so we spent a great deal of time learning how to keep him safe. Two years later, he is much calmer and as loyal as they come.
I still think of you every day, not just because I slip and call your brother by your name. I think of you when Kingsley tries to sit in my lap, while you always tried to stay at least one foot away, loving your personal space. I think of you when Kingsley is easily thwarted by a cracked door, while you would've simply gained access by pushing it open with your head. Your similarities and differences are how I have discovered the capacity of the human heart, this huge space available for yet another lifelong love. And I thank you for always and forever being my boy.
Cris Rivera, Durham