The next day while I was working under my deck, a Husky came bounding into the yard and jumped on me for hugs and kisses. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Brown Dog peeking around the side of the house as if to ask, “Can I come too?" As the Husky hurried off, I invited Brown Dog to come closer. He was sweet, gentle, and HUNGRY. He ate politely from my hand, then followed the Husky into the woods. Each day after that he stopped by for a meal and a nap – sometimes in the dog house I had placed outside as “yard art”.
A friend who came by during one of Brown Dog’s visits was aghast. “Karina”, he said, “Do you know what that is?” "Yup", I said, "It's a dog." He said, "No – it’s a Pit Bull, the most dangerous dog there is." "Well" I said, "It’s too late now. He's been eating out of my hand for days.”
I put a collar on him and wrote my phone number on it big and bold, and let him run loose for a couple more days but bringing him in at night. When no one called to claim him I brought him inside for good. I walked him around the neighborhood to meet his friends and discover his hangouts. No one knew where he'd come from or who he belonged to. He had a harem of girlfriends, one of whom was the Husky, who had a home. Everyone I spoke with loved him but no one wanted to adopt him. I teared up as friends set out to help me find him a home. He was a good dog. I had wanted a dog for a long time but didn't think I could afford one. Here was the perfect dog. Why not Brown Dog?
That’s how our adventure began. When we walked through the neighborhood, children would flock to greet their old friend. I learned that he had roamed the streets for about six months. I knew people often dumped dogs in a nearby park; that was probably his story too. When I tried to train him with treats, he would curl into a fetal position and crawl to the opposite corner of the room. Someone had tried to make him into a ferocious guard dog by luring him with treats and then beating him. This gentle dog could not be made mean, which is probably why he was dumped. He was afraid of men wearing hoodies and growled to warn me when he saw them. I did not have to teach him to protect me with tricks and beatings. I just had to love him. I named this gentle brown dog Alexander the Great, because any dog who stayed so loving after cruelty and abuse was a great dog.
These photos – just a few of the thousands I took of Alex – chronicle our 11 years together.
How quickly the years slipped past! After more than a decade together, I had to acknowledge that Alex’s life was beginning to draw to a close. He had survived two episodes of Blastomycosis, losing a toe in the process. His hearing failed and several benign growths were surgically removed. When his appetite began to falter, I fed him by hand as I had done in the beginning.
Conscious of dwindling time, I took Alex with me everywhere. During our last year, we went together to a family reunion in St. Augustine, FL. Alex had never seen the ocean, and now experienced it along with the rare freedom of being off leash most of the time. He beat a hasty retreat the first time the foamy waves engulfed his feet, but by the second day he was happily splashing in the water with the family. It was the experience of a lifetime for both of us and I am so grateful to have shared it with my heart dog.
On what was to be our last day, we drove to our friend’s acreage to have some off leash time. He didn’t feel up to moving around, but we sat outside for about two hours while he watched the life going on around him. When I could see he had had enough, I lifted him back in the car. Tomorrow would come the dreaded vet visit. Alex could no longer climb the stairs, so I planned to bring a mattress downstairs to sleep with him one last night. I thought we still had a little time.
Alex passed away quietly on our way back home. Did he have a heart attack? I wonder if he knew what was happening. Was he afraid or in pain? After a year the heartache is still fresh but the other animals – the cats and dogs – need me, so I carry on. I smile when I imagine him at the Bridge waiting for me, young and healthy with all of his toes, no white on his muzzle, his hearing intact. I hope he has trails to wander and water for swimming and lots of cats and dogs for romping.
Happy Valentine’s Day, my boy!