Authors: Jennifer Basye Sander
The Dog with the Old Soul
TRUE STORIES OF THE LOVE, HOPE AND JOY THAT ANIMALS BRING TO OUR LIVES
E. G. Fabricant
Sheryl J. Bize Boutte
Jerry and Donna White
Gordon M. Labuhn
“An animal anthology? Really? You?”
new friends may ask upon hearing about this book project, looking around my well-ordered house, devoid of cat hair or a wet-dog smell. What gives? There are no bags of pet food in my garage. My newspaper is recycled promptly, never placed at the bottom of a birdcage. Older friends nod in understanding, though, since they knew the Airedale that lives on forever in my heart.
Animals take up residence in our hearts, sometimes consuming all available space and leaving no room for another dog, cat, horse or bird to be added to the mix. I love dogs, but I haven’t had one myself in years. Just like some people have only one perfect love in their lives and, once it is over, don’t feel the need to replace it, my dog Big Guy spoiled me as an owner. I delight in having others’ pets around me, though, and I love to watch the affection and interaction between animals and people.
We are devoted to our animals, and they can be just as devoted to us. A recent news item touched everyone who stumbled upon it—the story of a man in China who passed away, leaving only a yellow dog behind. The dog refused to leave his grave, lying atop it day after day. Villagers brought the dog food and water, and one resident told reporters that the sight of the grieving dog “made my heart smile and cry.”
The stories in
The Dog with the Old Soul
will also make your heart both smile and cry. There are stories of joy—the thrill of a new puppy, the excitement of a young girl’s first horse show ribbon, the silliness of a room filled with cats. But life isn’t always joyful, and there are stories of the comforting role that animals can play in our emotional lives. There are times in life when reaching down to pet a familiar fuzzy head can help ground us in a way nothing else can.
It is my hope that these stories touch you deeply, and that more than once while reading, you reach out and pull your pets in closer to you on the couch. Enjoy!
Jennifer Basye Sander
The Dog with the Old Soul
or in my case, a dog—come into your life at just the right time.
Even before we were married, my husband and I talked about the dogs we would get someday. I wanted a Scottish terrier; he wanted a basset hound. Both of us liked both dogs, and neither of us minded which one we got first. We eventually decided that since bassets were known for being calm, low maintenance and child friendly—and since we were planning on having children soon—we’d get a basset first. Only problem was, for the first year and a half of our marriage we lived in a tiny apartment in Midtown.
When we moved to a larger home in 2009, it was time to start thinking about getting a dog. Well, actually, it was time to start thinking about having those children. Getting a dog was something we might push off till after the first baby was born,
we thought. But the months went by and the pregnancy tests kept turning up negative.
The thought of including a different type of being, one with four legs, as part of our family never was far from our thoughts. As much as we talked about baby names and family vacations and how we would
give our eight-year-old a cell phone, we also talked about hiking trips and strolls along the river and what we’d name our dog.
Three days after my twenty-seventh birthday, my husband sent me a seemingly innocuous photo from a local shelter’s website of a perky-looking tricolored basset hound with intelligent, old-soul eyes. Her name was Chloe.
I work from home, so the squeal I let out fell on an otherwise silent house—a silence that over the months had developed a pitch of frustration, sadness and worry that became more palpable with each Facebook pregnancy announcement I saw. I called my husband and asked if he was game to go look at the pup with the world-heavy expression.
That night we stood outside the kennel of a loudly barking Chloe, who seemed to be conveying her frustration at being cooped up for so long, and at life for being a little rough on her as of late.
I didn’t blame her. A kind but frazzled shelter employee told us this was the second time Chloe had been brought to the shelter.
Chloe let out a characteristic basset bark that rumbled deep in my bones, rattling loose feelings of compassion and a desire to care for another living being—feelings I’d lately
been walling off in an act of self-preservation. My husband and I looked at each other. “Let’s go home and sleep on it,” I said.
When we told the front-desk clerk that we needed a night to ponder adopting Chloe, she said, “You know, a family adopted her and brought her back ten days later because she had a cut on her leg. A cut.” The disdain in her voice stung my ears. It appeared this pup would not be given away again without the blessing of some very strong gatekeepers.
The next night we were back at the shelter, ready to adopt Chloe. My jangled thoughts and emotions zipped about my brain as if I were a kid in a bounce house.
Are we ready for this? Can we be good enough guardians for her? Our lives are about to change.
“She’s a very vocal dog,” said a frazzled employee, this one with a platinum blond ponytail, while opening the kennel.
ed nonstop out of impatience.
A cage that had not been cleaned out recently and a pen in which a matted microfleece blanket lay on the cold concrete were evidence of what the staff had already told us: the new shelter was struggling to survive, even as it tried to house a growing number of animals.
We were allowed to let this feverish canine out and to walk her, and she immediately put her nose to the ground with the loving familiarity of a mother tracing a finger over her child’s face. Within minutes, our hearts were completely won over by a panting, slobbering, smelly tank of infectiously lovable dog.
“We’d like to adopt Chloe,” we announced at the front desk.
“Adoptions ended a half hour ago,” said the front desk person, who was a different woman than the night before. Her name tag read “Staci.”
Crushed, we went home, nonetheless determined to be there right when the shelter opened the next day.
We arrived ten minutes before the shelter opened, and a coldness that didn’t come from the damp December air enveloped me when I saw about a half dozen other people in front of us in line.
“Are they all here to adopt?” I whispered to my husband. “You don’t think someone here wants to adopt Chloe, do you?”
My husband gave me a look. “Well, we’d better hightail it to the front desk as soon as possible,” he said.
When the front doors opened, we were the first to the desk. Staci, the woman who had turned us down the night before, was working again today. She smiled, pushing a lock of cocoa-brown hair out of her face. “You’re here to adopt the basset hound.”
We nodded like fools.
“I’ll go get her.” She rose to leave the desk, then turned to face us. “You know, she’s very vocal.”
We made assuring noises and stepped back when she sent a volunteer to get Chloe. A mother and two teenage girls came up to the desk. The mother said to an employee behind the desk—the one with the platinum blond ponytail who had allowed us to open Chloe’s pen the night before—“We’re here to adopt Chloe, the basset hound.”
Our eyes went wide.
“We were here last night,” the mother explained, “and started to fill out paperwork, but they said we couldn’t adopt her, because it was too late.”
The blond employee, who had not heard our conversation a moment ago with Staci at the front desk, said, “Okay, I’ll go get her.”
My husband went up to Staci, who had just sent the volunteer to retrieve Chloe. “I don’t want to cause a scene, but we just heard someone say they wanted to adopt the basset that you’re getting for us.”
Staci looked at us. “Oh.” She got the attention of the blond employee, who came back to the desk and listened as Staci told our story.
“Yeah, I remember you,” said the blond woman. “But this family did start the paperwork.” They looked at each other, and then the blond woman hurried to the back, where the volunteer was supposedly getting “our” dog.
How could this happen?
We had tried twice to take Chloe home, we knew we were ready for her, and now our little addition might be ripped away from us before we even had a chance to have her. We looked at the other family discreetly. They looked nice enough, with their perfect white smiles and their matching sweatshirts with their private high school’s name emblazoned on them. But she was supposed to be
Finally, the blond woman came back, holding the leash to Chloe, who was elated to be outside her kennel. We and the
other family stood there awkwardly. The blond woman walked up to me and held out the leash. “Here you go,” she said.
I looked at the leash in my hand. And smiled at it.
Twenty minutes later, after filling out enough paperwork to apply for a home loan, we walked out of the shelter the proud new guardians of a vocal, four-year-old basset hound, our hearts still stinging a bit at the image in our minds of the disappointed teenagers as they dejectedly walked past us to go home empty-handed. We never found out why the shelter chose us over the other family.
On the way to the car, we called our newest family member by the name we had chosen the night before, Bridgette—a name we felt encapsulated her unique, sweet yet spunky nature. We later found out that the name means “the exalted one” and “one who is strong and protective.”
“Do you think she’s happy to be out of there?” my husband asked, trying to get a look at her through the rearview window as he drove. I looked at the backseat, where Bridgette, with her long, thick body, flung herself onto her side like a breaching whale and breathed a contented sigh.
Four months later I was diagnosed with infertility, and we discovered that the only way we could have a biological family of our own was by in vitro fertilization. As I underwent testing and surgery, Bridgette was steadfast. And as I await a risky and uncertain treatment, she remains at my feet, showing a constancy that throws into sharp relief the actions of those in her previous life, those who had been entrusted with her care—
a constancy that challenges me to return what she has given me. I stand at a threshold, facing an uncertain future of my own, and her old-soul eyes serve as a daily reminder of grace as I am brought through the doors of a temporary holding place that I hope will eventually lead me home.