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You think you're doing a good deed by taking in a shelter dog, but it's not altruism that comes to the fore at the facility. Sure, you're doing the animal a major favor—bringing it in, saving it from death, surrounding it with central heating. Still, it's like buying a used car. You're going to kick the tires a bit, see which dog makes you feel better aboutyou.

Pinto, the one we'd liked online, was too hyper. The next one was aloof, not the cuddling type. And then we met a two-year-old beagle, Clover. She flopped onto my son's lap and lay there, looking up with limpid eyes that emanated adoration. We were sold.

At first, though, she was timid and skittish, as if her previous owners had even made her afraid of her own food. We had this idea we'd keep her off the couch, but that was where she insisted on decamping. We relented. We wanted her to feel at home.

Still, it took awhile for Clover to get her bearings. Sometimes she'd just stop in the middle of a walk and refuse to continue. We looked pretty silly carrying her home like a worn-out toddler.

But character is destiny, and Clover is a beagle, and beagles like to run. Late one afternoon, along the wooded trails near UNC–Chapel Hill, she spotted rabbit movement ahead. She wriggled free of her state-of-the-art harness and was gone like a shot. After an hour of calling her name, my wife and son ran across a young couple walking their own dog. My wife told them we had lost our beagle and that she didn't even have a collar on anymore. About half an hour later, my wife heard voices and then saw the young man, muddy and wet, clutching Clover. He'd seen her in the creek, jumped down, and caught her. My wife was on the verge of tears. He was her new hero.

Every other time Clover's gotten loose, some new hero has emerged. OK, so hero is a stretch, but these helpers restored, or at least confirmed, my sense that the world is populated by good, decent people. More often than not, they will hold onto your lost dog, call you up, and, in some cases, even deliver the dog into your arms.

Things have been pretty quiet lately. Clover doesn't like cold weather one bit, so she is back on the couch in front of the fake fire. But spring is approaching—time to run, I presume, time to meet some new neighbors.

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