All of us have days that we fondly remember, days that we replay time and time again, and never grow weary of. For me, one of those days is December 5, 2002. That was 6 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
The time was 7:20 am, I was on my way to work, and it was unseasonably cold. The engine turned over slowly, even the car radio took a while to wake up, and once again I cursed as I settled into the hard, frozen seat of my car. As I turned to take the access road that runs along the highway that morning, something at the side of the road caught my eye. A little heap, covered by a dusting of fresh snow, yet still visible as a black and white lump.
A creature, perhaps a skunk, I thought as I drove past?
“But skunks hibernate, don’t they?” opined the other voice inside my head. I slowed down. It was snowing, but from the condition of the freshly-fallen snow all around me, I knew no-one had driven by here in quite some time. It was just getting light, and my curiosity had been piqued, so I had to investigate. I promptly turned around, parked the car, and walked over to the lump in the snow. A little head popped up, a pink tongue unfurled as it let out a big yawn, and the black and white creature piddled a puddle, shook the snow off its back, and then excitedly walked over to me and licked my chin as I stooped down to pick it up.
Love at first sight is not an adequate expression. Remember the infamous scene in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”, when the Grinch’s heart “grew three sizes that day”? Well, it was the best way to describe the feeling I had in my chest that fateful morning.
What I found that morning can only be described as one of the greatest gifts a person can get.
The little dog, the vet guessed, must have been 7 or 8 weeks old. He weighed in at 10 pounds, and was a healthy, happy mix of what we could only guess was Labrador and Border Collie. In my naïve mind, I was sure that someone had lost him and I valiantly checked pet stores, vets, and on-line forums for someone’s desperate plea for their lost dog. Slowly, the realization that this little dog wasn’t lost, but had been deliberately abandoned, started to dawn on me. As the days unfolded, I started to read about rescue organizations, dog adoption societies, and the statistics behind dog abandonment. What I read staggered me. So many dogs, great dogs, abandoned each year. Left in boxes in front of the vet’s office. Chained up in front of SPCA’s, or worse, chained in forests and left to die. Thrown out by the side of the road in the country. Sad? You bet, and just another indication that our society is headed for demise, if we maintain the current path we’re on.
But I was on my way to work, and I needed a plan. Well, actually, I needed dog food, so I went to my elderly neighbor’s house with my new friend in tow. He offered to babysit and house the pup in the wood-working studio where he spent his days, and I in return promised to come back after work with a solution.
Although Eric does not believe me, I called everyone I knew from work that day and tried to find a home for this little black and white pup. And everyone greeted me with the same answer: nah, thanks but no thanks, it’s like…weeks... before Christmas, lemme see what I can do…
It was only when I arrived at my neighbor’s that evening to pick up the little dog, who was by now nestled in a crate by the wood-stove, with a chewed pine stick between his paws, that I fell madly, deeply and irreversibly in love. The little dog woke up, promptly wiggled his way towards me, tail circling in that unmistakable floppy-puppy way, and piddled another puddle on the cold concrete floor. He jumped up as I knelt down and licked my chin once again, and at that moment, I knew I could not part with him.
But my neighbor had other ideas. Mr. Lefebure loved dogs, and his dearly-loved and recently-departed Bijou was the dog by which all other dogs were judged. “That dog is smart,” he said. “A good dog”. Silence fell over me. “I’ll keep him”, he replied, and for an instant, I thought my problem was solved. I looked around, the flames were glowing inside the wood stove, and the shop lights flickered over-head. I felt the cold of the concrete floor through the soles of my boots, and looked over to the old flannel shirt that lined the wooden box. The little black and white dog would have a good home, lots of love and space to run, but my heart would be broken.
“I have to show him to Eric”, I said, straightening myself up. “Eric will be home tomorrow, alright?”, as I cradled the pup in my arms. “Just one night, okay?”, I queried, and with that, I sauntered home, making a mental check-list of doggy supplies I’d be needing. Trust me, Mr. Lefebure knew that it wouldn't be "just one night". He knew I was down for the count. I called dog-owning friends again, and begged for a crate. Blanket, check, collar, check, dog leash, check, dog food, check. I was on a mission.
Our first night was a disaster. He cried, I cried, and we cried together. We had a little philosophical talk. I placed him on the kitchen counter, and he sat down, head cocked quizzically. I was on the stool at the breakfast counter, and we were eye-to-eye. “Look”, I said to him. “I’m not the problem, but the big guy who’s gonna walk through the door tomorrow night will be. You need to be on your best behavior, no peeing or pooing in the house, no chewing on carpets or furniture. Put your charm on, and work your puppy-ness to the max. Got it?” The little dog cocked his head again, and stood still. He looked at me, and so help me, he understood every word I said. To this day I can’t explain it, but someone was looking over us that day.
And so it came to pass, that when Eric, a self-confessed “cat person”, walked through the door the next evening and set his luggage down, did the little dog sit perfectly at attention. Eric looked at me across the living room, looked down at the dog, and said, “I guess we have a dog”. A big grin crossed my face, and I said a silent thanks.
That six years have passed since that cold December morning is hard to believe. Cooper remains our faithful dog, and sometimes, when the lights are out and the dog is happily settled in between us in bed, Eric’s hand resting on Cooper’s chest, and Cooper’s paw in my hand, one of us breaks the dark silence. “We have a good dog, eh?” someone offers. The answer is always the same, “Yeah, the best dog ever.” Cooper lets out a big sigh and squirms into place, his chest slowly rising and falling, and thumps his tail in reply.