I’ve had two dogs. Two very different dogs. Nigel, my first dog, had a genetic stew that included German Shepherd, rottweiler, and something unfathomable like wild boar or mule. Not long after Nigel’s death at age 13, the instructor from his former obedience school gave us a Blue Merle collie named Wind. Her biological parents were definitely both dogs.
When my Italian mother, God bless her non-dog-loving soul, first saw Nigel, she said, “Nigelo look-uh stupid.” He had a large head with, in all probability, an ostrich brain. In fact, when Nigel graduated from obedience school, I won an award for my handling of a problem dog.
Except for white and tan markings on his chest, paws, and face, Nigel had long black fur. It protruded wildly from his sow ears like troll hair. His doofus appearance and his crazed temperament would have made him a magnificent junkyard dog. Apparently, at that time in my life, God thought I needed him more than a junkaholic did.
Wind, on the other hand, carried herself with graceful dignity like the elegant pet of a Scottish monarch. She had been bred to be a show dog, but her ears didn’t tip forward, her snout grew too long, and she had a gangly build. Two shades of her blue merle color divided her noble face.
When I adopted Nigel, I lived in a modest neighborhood gone bad. He became my streetwise sidekick. Unless he sensed bad intentions, Nigel didn’t try to remove body parts. Once he crashed through a storm door window as he lunged for a drug seeker casing out the house. I snatched his collar as he stood getting his bearings in the shattered glass. The doper never returned. Neither did his business partners.
Another time, a cocky thug approached my car door at a stop sign and shouted, “Hey, b*tch!” Nigel jammed his huge head through a partially opened rear window, his jaws snapping and slobber flying as he barked in a ruthless frenzy. The thug turned tail and fled as if a demonic creature had been released from the depths of hell.
When I met my husband, Michael, Nigel had entered doggie middle-age. They quickly bonded. Shortly after we started a family in 1983, Nigel had to be put down. His infirmities caused him (and us!) great pain. If he hadn’t been crippled by hip dysplasia, Nigel would have used my first born as a chew toy or buried him in the backyard. He didn’t like kids.
Wind came into our lives within a year of his loss. She had amazing maternal instincts and immediately adopted our son as her own. When our family expanded with two more children, Wind welcomed them to her flock. Michael built a sandbox for them under a birch tree in the middle of our shallow backyard. When Wind’s brood played inside the sandbox, she’d sit near it, always vigilant.
If one of the kids wandered out of our yard, she’d cling to them like plastic wrap and gently bump them back. Her natural herding instinct often kept them out of harm’s way. One hot summer afternoon, as I chopped vegetables in front of the open kitchen window, I watched as they amused themselves in the shade of the sandbox.
Suddenly, a gas meter reader sprinted through a narrow strip of woods bordering our property. Wind jumped up, circled the sandbox, and bolted in his direction. Her paws barely touched the grass. As she became airborne, I shouted, “Wind, come!” She dropped into the brush of the woods, did an about face, and returned.
Wind’s human-like intelligence didn’t allow her to be disobedient without feeling gut-wrenching guilt. If she secretly did something wrong, like the time she ate a dozen freshly baked blueberry muffins or the many times she slept on the couch, she’d slink away and hide when we came home. Wind behaved like she understood the Ten Commandments.
Nigel would only obey commands if he had nothing better to do. No guilt. During a cold and rainy Sunday morning, I let Nigel run with reckless abandon around the grounds of my old high school. As he followed his nose through the marching band’s practice field, I shadowed him under the cover of my umbrella. When we began walking around the building, I scanned the area. A parking lot confined by railroad tracks bordered one side, and a housing project the other. I saw no one. No cars. Nothing.
Without warning, a disturbing scream echoed from a recessed doorway where Nigel had disappeared. A male figure sprang out with Nigel snapping and snarling at his heels. The guy looked like a bad ass about to make poopy in his pants. When he dared to move again, Nigel clamped onto a mouthful of his baggy oversized jeans. He shrieked an eye-popping shriek.
“Nigel, come!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. He ignored me. The jeans ripped. Nigel loosened his grip before chomping another mouthful. More screams.
While racing toward them, I repeated, “Nigel, come!” He growled and snorted as he yanked his head back and forth like a merciless crocodile mauling its prey.
Then I whacked Nigel over the head with my umbrella. No response. So whack, whack! He let go and I grabbed his collar. The man scampered away in his shredded baggy jeans never to be seen again. I thanked God Nigel didn’t injure what he sensed to be a snake in the grass.
Nigel’s concrete head didn’t suffer trauma. The umbrella did. I’ll emphasize this with another incident. I planned to walk him in a large field flanked by woods. As I opened the car door to get him, he spotted another dog across the road and leaped past me.
“Nigel, come!” He kept running. A car screeched as it skidded to a stop. The steel bumper hit Nigel’s head and threw him forward onto the asphalt. He popped up wagging his tail and came to me. Maybe he thought I whacked him with an umbrella.
Sometimes Wind chose to be disobedient out of concern. When she wanted me to help my daughter stop coughing, she retrieved me at midnight. Apparently, the cough medicine hadn’t worked, so I gave my daughter warm honey water before returning to bed. The cough continued and so did Wind’s visits, even after she received the commands to lie down and stay.
Finally, I shut the bedroom door. Then “Bam, bam, bam!” Mama Wind head-butted our door until I came out. When God entrusted me with children, I never thought he would bless me with a dog as my maternal mentor.
The kids tried to play fetch with Wind, but she refused to leave their sides. They would coax her into being a dinosaur, or a ghost, and even a tornado. “Hurry! Hide! We got to get away from the tornado! It’s coming!” my oldest son warned his little sister as Wind gave chase.
Instead of taking cover under the sandbox seats with her brothers, she grabbed the collar of the raging storm funnel, appropriately named Wind, and said, “I got the tomato!” Their incredible canine playmate stoked their imaginations and enriched their childhood.
Lured by more mature interests, the kids eventually drifted away from the sandbox. But not Wind, their confidante. She’d peacefully watch squirrels nibble on its corners, or let birds perch on its sides, or freshen her fur by rolling in the cool green grass next to it.
And Nigel? When we hiked, he’d chase animals. If they weren’t alive, all the better. He’d thrash around on their dead, maggot infested carcasses. Decayed fish and river mud were his favorite fragrances. And to spruce up his breath, he ate dog crap and trail trash.
Wind satisfied her picky palate with dog food and whatever morsels fell on the kitchen floor. As she aged, her appetite waned, her gait slowed, and her bark weakened. Shortly before her fifteenth birthday, she died. We still grieve over her loss and have never been able to get another dog.
Nigel and Wind, two of God’s wonderfully diverse creations, were each a guardian angel in their own way. One happened to be a gangsta mongrel with street creds and the other, a gallant purebred with the savvy of a good shepherd.
James 3:7, NAB
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species,(James 3:7, NAB)
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