hile walking through my neighborhood last winter, I made a new friend. Bonding with a dog through idle, one-sided communication, you wouldn’t think the encounter would be so memorable, but it was. I’ve engaged with strangers at the train station, or while in line at the farmer’s market – those interludes have been pleasant enough, but my exchange with this particular dog has stuck in my mind like a gentle burr.
As I rounded the corner, a dog I’d never seen before ambled toward me. Most dogs in the neighborhood are accompanied by their people. This one, sans leash, was apparently the independent type. In a particularly loquacious mood, I began to chat with her.
Obviously an older dog with respect for the human breed, this golden-coated canine stopped in her tracks and looked up at me.
“How are you today?”
She stood quietly.
“What’s your name?”
After a moment, I repeated the question as though an answer were forthcoming. “What’s your name?”
She looked me in the eye as though doing her best to be polite.
“You don’t have your collar on.”
Tail wagging now.
“Where’s your collar?”
The dog glanced down and then all around as though looking for it. I found this incredibly cute. Did she understand? We stood for a minute or so, not unlike two neighbors sharing idle small talk. For a moment, I felt a little odd talking to a dog that obviously had no social skills – not even an irreverent bark – although this one seemed to have more decorum than some people I know. Is this what crazy people do? No, I told myself. Crazy people would talk to the nearby telephone pole. Dogs were normal.
To my final question, “Where’s your house?” the dog began to move. I followed right behind, curious as to where she was going. She took a turn at the corner and walked to the second house on the left where she plopped down on the lawn.
“This is it,” she said with her body language.
I paused to survey the property and for the second time felt odd.
I’d never been so drawn to an animal. Not wanting to leave, but realizing an invitation to stay would not be forthcoming, I stood there wondering if I could coax the dog to follow me. Obviously content with sitting (or just bored with me), she wouldn’t budge from the lawn, despite my promptings.
On further forays through the neighborhood in the coming weeks, I looked forward to seeing my new friend and made it my mission to walk past her house. More times than not, she wasn’t anywhere around. On those few occasions when I did spot her, my heart leapt. I called out across the lawn and waved like an excited kid on the verge of a play date. She reticently moved toward the sidewalk but wouldn’t step beyond the lawn.
Later, I took my husband to the dog’s house, anxious to show her my new friend. As I began to speak, she got up and disappeared around the side of the house. My husband sarcastically remarked how much my new “friend” must have really liked me as he chuckled under his breath. Moments later, the dog reappeared, peeking surreptitiously out from the side of the house to catch a glimpse of us. At that, we both chuckled.
As winter turned to spring, I passed by the house on my daily walks to find the dog rarely, if ever, in sight. Weeks turned to months, and my initial curiosity became a distraction to the point of annoyance: I had finally found something in the neighborhood to spice up the mundane scenery, and now she was conspicuously absent.
June passed, then July, and I didn’t see my canine friend. I felt like a stalker as I slowed to inspect the property at every passing, thinking the dog was perhaps around the back – eating, napping or luxuriating in the sun. One day, I noticed the boat that was once a fixture in the driveway where the dog lived was now missing and probably at the shore – along with the whole vacationing family. Of course, that would include the dog.
A few weeks later, I heard voices coming from my friend’s backyard. I stopped and stood at the foot of the driveway, hoping to attract attention without being intrusive. A lady eventually approached. “Hi, I’m your neighbor from up the road,” I said, anxious to tell her the story of how I’d bonded with her pooch. “I love your dog.”
She replied with news I wasn’t expecting to hear. I swallowed hard when she told me they had to put the dog down.
I let the teary feeling abate before proceeding to tell my neighbor about my serendipitous encounter earlier that winter. Her eyes began to glisten. Sharing my story with her felt good and brought back the warm feelings all over again. Then she told me a little about her dog…how much she loved being outside and especially enjoyed children. My neighbor took her to kindergarten where the kids rolled and played with her for hours. I pictured the love they all had for this sweet animal, and wondered if they missed her, too.
Now, a year later, walks by the dog’s house on my daily excursions through the neighborhood still bring fond memories of that cold winter morning when we met. Her name was Mandy. She was 12-and-a-half. I feel blessed to have known her.