After six years of volunteering at the Animal Protection Society of Durham, blogging about their adoptable dogs at Bull City Dogs, and making "pup pops" for Locopops to raise funds for Trianglewide animal rescue organizations, I've accumulated a lot of stories—some happy, some not—about the dogs I've been privileged to spend time with. The one I most love to tell begins with the arrival of a cute puppy named Blair.
Blair lived in Kennel 44 with her sister, Brooke. Blair was the shyer, more submissive one of the pair, and had a tan coat with black undertones and a distinctive ruffled collar. Because of her temperament, I socialized with her separately from her sister to build Blair's confidence. Mostly she sat on my lap while I scratched her ears and her ruff, making soothing noises. Once she got used to me, I brought out hot dogs and we practiced "sit." She was too nervous to play with toys, but she was willing to do anything as long as it involved treats. Because she would be so focused on getting a treat, she would sit still, looking quizzical as if to figure out what I expected of her. Her focus and adorable expression made it very easy to take photos of her for my dog blog, and I knew she would be an easily trainable and fun puppy. I wrote up my observations, posted them, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best, as I do for all the dogs I write about.
Her sister had been adopted earlier, and when I next saw Blair, she was looking a little forlorn, even lonely. Days passed. I had to go to Boston, so I called my petsitter, Heather Brown of Bull City Pet Sitting. Heather reported that the other petsitter, Jen Thornburg, was adopting Blair! Jen had no intention of adopting another dog, much less a puppy, until she saw Blair on my blog. Blair's endearing expression in the photos and her detailed bio captured Jen's heart. Success!
Today Blair has been renamed Djuna and is a very happy, social and confident puppy, living with her two mommies, two other dogs and a cat. Her favorite activity is meeting new people, which is surprising, given her initial temperament at the shelter. She just graduated with flying colors from her puppy class and likes to tussle with her canine siblings in games of tug, fetch and "my mouth is bigger than your mouth." On a hot summer day, she enjoys a pup pop from Locopops. I only wish that every homeless dog has a happy ending like hers.
Eunice Chang, Durham
"Do you want to do some shopping?" my husband asked. It was Sunday morning, and we were driving down Falls of Neuse Road.
I ignored him, fixated on the cell phone in my hands. 11:15, less than two minutes since the last time I checked and 30 minutes since we'd given the vet the OK to operate on Marty, our 12-year-old dog. Now we were aimlessly driving, waiting on a phone call and praying it would say all was OK, not ask for permission to euthanize.
My husband tried again. "Are you hungry? There's a Starbucks up ahead." Still, I ignored him, and we drove on. 11:17.
The day before began with the promise of a quiet Saturday at home. I slept in, made a pot of coffee and let our two dogs outside. Marty immediately vomited. We took him to the vet, were given some medicine and told to keep an eye on him. He got worse throughout the day and night, and we were back at the vet's office first thing the next morning.
We drove down Falls of Neuse until it turned into Old Wake Forest. We cut through downtown Raleigh, uncharacteristically quiet. We doubled back on Capital, then down Millbrook and around Shelley Lake. We cruised the streets of my old neighborhood off Six Forks. Then we pulled back into the vet's parking lot. No phone call, but we'd done all the driving we could do.
Marty was 8 weeks old when my family adopted him. A tiny ball of black and tan fuzz, he spent eight years happily frolicking on our farm, herding the horses like a good collie mix. When the farm was sold, Marty moved in with me in Raleigh and quickly adapted to city life. We joked that he was enjoying retirement in the lap of luxury.
The X-ray showed a large mass in his stomach, an obstruction of some sort. Maybe something he ate. Maybe a tumor. We all stood blinking at the X-ray. Our vet broke the silence, "We're staying for emergency surgery."
My husband and I said a prayer and agreed—it wasn't Marty's time yet. We signed the authorization form and drove away.
When we returned, the vet greeted us at the door. Marty had survived the surgery (an obstruction, not a tumor), but he wasn't out of the woods yet. His intestine was very bruised and might fail. The vet held up his hand, fingers outstretched. There was a five-day rule, he said. For the next five days, we would worry about infection and that poor intestine.
We slept on an air mattress downstairs to be near him. We carefully monitored his water and food intake. We used a towel to support his hindquarters as he walked. There were complications, and he went back to the vet for care.
Then it was Saturday—the sixth day. He was alive. We got in the car for another drive, this time to bring our boy back home.
Courtney Beck, Durham
Loki is the Norse god of trickery and mischief. He's a shape-shifter, and I'm pretty sure our tomcat is one of his chosen forms. We picked out the name Loki before we went to the shelter, and yet it fit him perfectly.
I wanted an orange tabby because I'd always heard they were the friendliest cats. At the shelter, I was drawn to the loudest meower, a runt of a kitten with a deafening purr even from behind cage bars. He was the only orange tabby there. It was fated that we'd take him home, and he worked his charms to ensure it.
He proved to be a mischief maker just like his namesake. He claimed all of Woodcroft as his domain. Loki was well fed and well loved, but he still fooled many unwitting humans into thinking his easy purr and plaintive meows were signs of hunger. The neighborhood became his personal 24-hour buffet. Phone calls came daily:
"Hello. Do you have an orange cat?"
"Is he at your house? If he's bothering you, I'll come walk him home."
"Oh, no! He's wonderful, so friendly. Thought I'd check because he walked right inside, begging for food. He ate all my chicken."
Of course he did.
Loki's ability to con the lunchmeat off scores of neighbors would prove to be a crucial skill. He went missing one stormy afternoon. I canvassed the neighborhood with flyers. The phone rang just as often, but the calls were from dozens of strangers shocked to hear he was gone. Time passed, and the phone grew quiet.
Eight months after his disappearance, it rang again. Loki had been found in Apex, 15 miles away! He'd been in the same area for at least six months, surviving by convincing the locals to feed such a sweet, friendly stray—up to his old tricks, of course. He still had his collar, but the ID tag had fallen off. None of his new benefactors had thought to have him checked for a microchip.
That phone call came after a Good Samaritan took him to a veterinarian. He'd been in a bad accident, and the vet's office scanned his chip. Loki lost an eye and had jaw surgery, but we were relieved to take him home after a few days. He ran straight to where we had always kept his food bowl. Our new kitten, Mazu—named for a Chinese god who provides shelter from the storm—took to him right away.
Loki went back to making his old rounds of the neighborhood. People wondered if he was the same cat that had gone missing all those months ago, but as soon as they touched him, he'd roll over and purr, giving them their answer.
He may have shape-shifted a little, but Loki's guile and charisma haven't changed. If you see him, don't be fooled by his mournful meow or you might miss the playful grin of the Trickster.
Rebecca Gomez Farrell, Durham
We wanted a small dog. A dog to be a sidecar to our aging hound, Jack. I told my mother I wanted a border terrier. She always has a line on a dog. She called me a week later, "Squeaky says a border terrier just came into the shelter. You want him?" I told her of course! Two days later my mother drove in our driveway. We dashed outside to greet her. My mother looked sheepish, "He's not exactly a puppy," she said as she opened the rear door of her car and this urchin emerged, "and he's not exactly a border terrier. I don't know what he is." Her friend Squeaky volunteers for a shelter in South Carolina and, well, they don't have much funding. Fig had the bad luck of coming in on the heels of a doberman that needed surgery. While the doberman was recovering they got a call, "You gotta come over here now, there's a BIG dog attacking a LITTLE dog!" When the shelter folks got there, all they found was Fig lying on the sidewalk, bleeding.
Fig was the worst looking dog I had ever seen. His red wire hair was matted, he was mostly bones, and he had one ear that stood up and another that flopped. My mother handed me the leash, "I'm sorry. I couldn't just leave him there." No, no she couldn't have. Jack immediately took to Fig. He laid down next to him and they quietly shared stories. Jack told Fig of his years living in Bermuda, and Fig told Jack about his fall from grace. See, there was something noble about Fig.
When we walked into the Hill Creek Veterinary Clinic the next day, there was a collective gasp. They were used to seeing us with Jack, who was practically a movie star. The first thing Fig did was put a puncture wound in the hand of our vet. He was like a canine Jimmy Cagney. He growled ferociously. The vet went to the emergency room and we left Fig to be sedated and examined. Fig had mange, was full of heartworms, was missing several teeth and several more needed to be pulled. His puncture wounds from the street fight were infected, AND he needed to be neutered.
Fig cost us $3,000. Yet by fall, he gained weight and a sparkle came to his eye. But there was something you never ever did to that dog—you never picked him up.
One day we were driving with Fig and passed some bicycles. The bicycles brought out such rage in Fig that we guessed about his history. We decided that Fig had once been in the Russian Circus and was tormented by the Bear who rode the unicycle. It was the Bear who caused his fall from grace.
Fig is gone now. Cushing's disease took him. We only had five years with him. He was a spirit, that dog, a real spirit.
Shannon Woolfe, Hillsborough