Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Man Who Wins The Dog Lottery Is A Lucky Man

Four years ago today a sickly, seven-month-old stray who had already spent three stints in his short life as a ward of the Humane Society took a chance on me.

He was severely malnourished, underweight, riddled with parasites, and missing a tooth. He was not an ideal candidate for adoption, I was told; he had been labeled a loud and destructive dog, an habitual runaway, and virtually untrainable.

I was blind to these accusations. I had been making regular trips to the shelter in the hopes of finding another Siberian Husky that might fill the hole left by my beloved Willis two months earlier, but from the instant I saw Wendell (that would become his name), standing at calm attention and intently watching me bounce a ball that left every other dog in the place either indifferent or in a frenzy, I knew that he was the one.

There was, however, a hold on him. He had just been picked up yet again, a street dog and a scavenger; he was also in very poor health, and his suitability for a "conventional adoption scenario" was being evaluated.

I visited him three straight days during this probationary period, and --other than the fact that he had clearly never been on a leash-- he was always attentive, affectionate, and a perfect gentleman. I also never heard him make a peep. When I mentioned this fact to the staff I was told that he was, without question, a barker, and one of the noisier dogs presently in the shelter's care.

I'm not entirely sure why (other than that first connection, which was probably enough), but after three days I took him home to share my life. It took less than 24 hours for me to realize that I had, once again, won the dog lottery.

Wendell has now been with me through thick (lots of thick) and thin (lots of thin). He has traveled all over the U.S. and Canada with me. For many months we were in the woods of Vermont and I never had a leash on him. Whenever I can get away with it, I allow him off leash, and he never strays far from my side. He has never barked in the house, has never destroyed a single one of my possessions, let alone any of his own toys or those he inherited from his predecessor. He never had to be house trained.

He has never disappointed me. Never. Not once. And he has endured with patience --and, sometimes, almost eerie attention-- my countless lonely late night monologues, stories, filibusters, lamentations, riddles, and bursts of random madness. I have read to him from Aristotle and Wittgenstein and countless other authors who were breaking my brain and making me feel stupid. People he had loved and depended on have disappeared from his life without a trace, but I have not disappeared from his life, and for long stretches during our time together I have desired very little other than to not disappear from his life.

Wendell has kept me going during times when I otherwise did not much feel like I wanted to keep going.

He is now a healthy, happy, adventurous, and astonishingly athletic dog. I haven't yet met anybody who appears to have any clear idea what sort of dog he is --almost everyone seems to have a different guess as to his jumble of breeds-- but I have never had any doubt that he is a guide dog, a service dog, and a first-rate companion dog. And at the bottom of every day --we both live on Hong Kong time-- I tuck him into his Garden of Sweet Dreamers and promise him that I will do everything in my power to be worthy of such a tremendous blessing and responsibility.

He still gets nervous on a certain type of concrete floor, and I have concluded that such cold, slippery surfaces must remind him of his days as a shelter inmate. He is, though, always lovely to me, and he inspires waves of almost unbearable tenderness every single day. Watching him run never fails to make me happy, and watching him sleep never fails to calm me.

I've honestly never known another breathing thing with such a lust for life.

Dozens of times a day I scratch him or hold him and say nothing but, "Thank you, thank you, thank you," or "Good boy, good boy, such a good boy." Time after time I assure him that we are together as long as we breathe, and longer if there's any sort of decent place beyond this one.

And every single night before I turn out the lights I tell him, without fail, "Sweet dreams, my beautiful boy, my precious pride and joy. Tomorrow we'll try like hell to make some new magic."

If this all seems utterly daft, so be it. I am blessed to have a dog, and if I did not have a dog --if I did not have this dog-- I would be a sad excuse for a human being.


  1. i feel the same way about my bulldog TONKA

  2. You are indeed a human who understands that our dogs find us and when the match is right we both feel complete. It truly is an honor to be given the gift of caretaker for such generous and amazing teachers that canines really are. Wendell is gorgeous and has obviously found his way home.

  3. <3 thanks for warming my heart tonight!

  4. There definitely was a connection between the two of you from day 1. His beginnings weren't very good but it led him to you.

  5. Hunter was a 2 time loser from the humane society. He had a rap sheet that warned of destructivness, housebreaking issues,runaway risks,etc..All crap actually. He was the dearest dog to ever live in our home. We too won the lottery, but had to return all the money with interest 7 years later.Although our hearts were broken,the dog lottery is a great game! Somebody gimme a dollar!!

  6. You truly understand the bond that is possible between dog and person. Thank you for reminding me of this. I once had a dog like that. Thank you for your words.

  7. You and Wendell have certainly been a blessing to each other... Made my heart and spirit smile :-)

  8. You were both fortunate in finding each other.

  9. He was just waiting for the right pal to come along and now you have found each other.
    A similar thing happened to me, see:
    A heart warming story, thank you!

  10. I cried through this whole story; so true and loving. Thank you.

  11. I tried to read this aloud to a friend and could not finish it because my voice kept breaking. It was at the part that said, "People he had loved and depended on have disappeared from his life without a trace, but I have not disappeared from his life, and for long stretches during our time together I have desired very little other than to not disappear from his life." I understand this thinking. I love the way you write here. ~vk

  12. he looks and sound like he might be an Australian Kelpie, Intelligent active loyal lovely creatures, and great companions chance to look up Red Dog and maybe you will see a dog like Wendell albeit a different coat colour the same heart

  13. Yes, anyone thinking of getting a dog should look for exactly what you found - the one dog in the shelter or litter that stops what it's doing when you show up, come over and look at you with expectation mixed with patience, an attitude of 'oh, you're here, what will we do next?' As a mother, I've had few regrets - the only one that revisits and gnaws is the fact I did not get my son, an only child, a dog when he was little. Can't really make up for that now, but maybe Betsy can bring some dog-joy to those that need some. The dog at my feet as I write this is an achingly gently Aussie/Border collie mix, smart as a whip and as attached to me as a burr on fur. We've just finished training to become a hospice therapy team - simply, this dog is too lovely not to share. Wendell is a lucky dog (he looks part Aussie) Cheers.

  14. Thank you for sharing. It seems you understand the bond between dog and person. God Bless both you and Wendell and enjoy your lives.