My husband and I went to Second Chance Ranch to meet and potentially adopt a four-month-old cattle-dog mix, with the ill-suited name of Angel. As she ran in circles, nipped at our heels and jumped vertically five feet to bite her rescuer on the nose, we thought Devil Dog was more apt. The rescue ranch, which was an old gothic style home with cold, grey stone floors, was quite chaotic with dogs everywhere, mostly all black. I’m not sure why so many black dogs needed rescuing. One of those black dogs sat on the couch staring at me, after pushing Angel out of the way with a brisk snap. She had a lion’s mane of black hair surrounding a soulful face and a white stripe down the center of her chest. She jumped off the couch and stood in front of me, her large, soft brown eyes meeting mine. They seemed to say – get me out of here. “We just rescued her from the Skagit County Animal Shelter,” Katie, the owner of Second Chance Ranch told us. “She was a stray and they were going to put her down because they thought she was old and not adoptable. Those idiots –she’s only about 9 or 10 months old. She hasn’t even lost her baby teeth yet.” Jon looked over at our locked gaze and said, “I believe we found our dog.” We named her Katie.
I wanted a dog all my life. My parents, particularly my mother wouldn’t let me. They’re too dirty, too needy, she’d be the one to take care of it (she may have had a point there), but her biggest concern is that they would die. I appeased myself with a subscription to Dog Fancy magazine where I cut out pictures of cute beagle puppies and hung them on a wall. When I met Jon, he had a spaniel named Daisy. He never wanted a dog either – ironically for the same reason as my mother – they die. He was traumatized as a child when his mother, for reasons unknown, but apparently, as some sort of punishment, had his dog put down. I could understand Jon’s hesitation. But Daisy showed up on his doorstep with a broken leg after being thrown out of a car, and with his young son’s instant attachment to the sweet spaniel, Jon had no choice but to keep her. This was several years before I met him. When we started dating, Daisy was about 12 and Jon’s son Scott was a senior in college. About 3 years later, Daisy had a series of strokes and we finally had to put her down on New Year’s Eve. Jon was devastated, and it took him a full year to grieve her death.
The first year Jon and I were married was rough. We spent our first month anniversary in the hospital with Jon having an angioplasty. The nurse gave us a chocolate cupcake to celebrate. Three months later, he was back in having a double bypass. He recovered well and by the end of the year we had purchased property in Carnation, a rural town outside of Seattle, and were planning to build a house. I broached the subject of getting a dog. Jon, was, of course, hesitant, but I must shamefully admit, I pulled out the “I agreed not to have kids, but I want a dog” card and eventually he agreed.
Katie was a border collie mix and Jon thought she was also part Newfoundland. She was smart, loyal, and loved to swim. Once at friend’s lake house we were paddling out in a canoe and were just about in the middle of the lake when we looked behind us to find Katie swimming out toward us, strong and steady. When she wasn’t hanging out with us, she was recruiting the neighbors’ dogs into her gang and we watched her leading her pack of mongrels along the lakeside shore and into the meadows.
Our property in Carnation was up a steep hill in a remote area, a farm on one side and a large home with great danes and horses down the hill. While I worked in the City, Jon would come out to the property to work on the house. Katie was in heaven, running around with the neighbor’s dogs and checking in with Jon every hour or so. One Friday after work, I came out to meet Jon and spend the weekend in our airstream trailer. I was greeted by Katie in her boisterous fashion with a stick in her mouth – she always had to have something in her mouth when I came home and we played a round of tug-of-war. The house was only a slab of concrete, but Jon surprised me with a candlelight dinner in what would be our dining room one day. While we ate the delicious meal Jon cooked on the camp stove and planned out the house, Katie lay beside us sleeping and dreaming, her legs in a running motion – still leading her pack of dogs. Sometimes during the week, I would take her to the dog park. Like children in playground she made friends easily with other dogs while we “mothers” stood around chatting proudly about how sweet, smart, and naughty our dogs were.
Katie had her neuroses too. Loud noises like thunder and fireworks terrified her as she looked up at the sky howling, her body shaking. She hated large men, in fact most men, and if a man she didn’t know got too close she would growl and bark and bare her teeth. She had thing about kites too. And would bark furiously at any kite she saw flying – and the dog park was near a kite flying hill.
Almost a year after we adopted Katie, Jon got sick again, this time, lung cancer, despite having quit smoking 20 years earlier. Katie’s sensitivity to our physical and emotional state was intense. She stayed beside us, keeping an eye on us, no more treks with the neighbor dogs – she had a job to do now and that was looking after Jon and me.
Five months after being diagnosed Jon passed away. A few days before he died a couple of friends asked what they could do to help. Katie was nervous, pacing around us, crying. Robin and Jeff had an Australian Shepherd that Katie had played with on a few occasions. I asked them to take Katie out for the playdate, so she could get away from the stress and enjoy just being a dog. I should have known Katie would have none of this. They took the dogs to an off-leash area in Golden Gardens Park, near the Puget Sound. Katie never relaxed and didn’t want to play. Shortly after they arrived at the park, Katie jumped the fence and ran along the train tracks, heading north, the direction of home. Robin, who was a distance runner, ran after her as long as she could but lost her when Katie ran up a hill into the affluent Blue Ridge neighborhood. Jeff called me, and my sister and I drove immediately to search the neighborhood. The four of us desperately calling Katie, Katie.
Days passed. Jon died. Katie was still missing. My office became command central for printing out lost dog flyers. Scores of colleagues, friends, dog rescuers scoured the neighborhoods in northwest Seattle. We received phone calls of potential sightings and went to investigate to no avail. Jon’s son met a radio DJ when he was out looking and the DJ invited us to tell our tragic tale on the air and get the word out further. At Jon’s memorial service there was a self-proclaimed psychic who told me that Katie would be found in 9 days, while another psychic told me 10. A friend said that Katie was guiding Jon to the afterlife. I am not sure what Jon would have said to these claims, being an atheist. As for me, I was numb to all their hopeful words.
One morning, about nine or ten days after Katie went missing, and I laid in our bed with an empty pizza box on the floor, I received a call asking me if I lost a dog. “Yes, yes,” I said, “Did you see her? Did you see the flyer?” “No, we didn’t see the flyer” the caller said, “We have her here. We got your number off her collar.” She gave me the address and I jumped into my car, heart pounding – could this be – could this be?
I arrived at the address and heard a deep, husky bark when I rang the bell. A man came to the door of the split-level home with a big black dog beside him. My face dropped; it wasn’t Katie. A woman upstairs in the entrance to their kitchen said “No, that’s our dog. Katie is up here.” I called her name. Katie appeared next to woman, saw me and ran down the stairs, while I dropped to my knees. I hugged and kissed her while she wagged her tail furiously. I looked up at the couple and mentioned the reward and they laughed and said this was enough of a reward. They explained how they saw Katie in the grassy utility right-of-way for a few days, but she was too skittish to come in. They finally lured her in by putting out food and dropping a box over her. “Like a raccoon,” the man said. She was heading home. That utility corridor was between the Golden Gardens park and our house.
I don’t know if I could ever experience again the intense joy I felt when I found Katie for it was in such stark contrast with the pain of losing Jon. Katie stayed with me for 10 years until cancer also took her. She was there throughout my grief, a grief so strong I felt it tear my heart apart leaving a gaping hole inside that I desperately tried to fill with food and mindless TV. I remember so clearly this one cold night. I went against the dog trainer’s advice and allowed her up on the bed. Her face look ecstatic, like she had finally arrived. Then she burrowed in next me, her 60 lbs of frame and muscle tight against my torso, keeping me warm, protected. Her tail sweeping softly against my leg. I slept well that night for the first time.