It was a typical 1970s northwest Indiana winter: Deep snow drifts, highs in the teens, and grey overcast daylight hours. My fiancé and I were out together running errands. It was so cold and grey, we knew we didn’t want to be out any longer than absolutely necessary, but we also knew there were things we absolutely had to take care of on our joint day off.
Our heavy Chrysler New Yorker Brougham acted like a snowplow, pushing through the previous night’s heavy drifts on the side streets the municipal plows hadn’t reached yet. A block ahead, we both squinted to try and figure out what this stationary, mahogany mound in the middle of the street could possibly be. As we inched our way carefully down the street, we gradually came to realize it was a really large adult Irish Setter, just sitting on its haunches, head rotating in all directions to see who was approaching.
I’d never had any pets growing up, so I had no frame of reference for dealing with a random stray animal. Fortunately, my fiancé had grown up with dogs all his life, both as pets and as hunting partners, so he immediately put the car into park, opened the driver door, and slowly walked toward the dog ten feet ahead of him, all the while speaking softly and slowly as if this stranger were an old friend.
I sat watching through the windshield at the slowly paced ballet going on ahead of me: The human approaching while the dog sat stoically watching. Much to my surprise, the dog didn’t react except to nuzzle Frank’s extended hands, sniffing all sides, and resting his head into the open palms. Frank squatted down to almost eye level with the dog, all the while speaking softly, saying who knows what. The poor dog didn’t struggle or resist when Frank picked him up in his arms and carried him back to our car, signaling for me to open the back door.
As he gently lay this trembling mass of matted mahogany fur knots onto our back seat, he softly said to me that he needed the extra blankets we always kept in the trunk. After wrapping the blankets I’d quickly retrieved around the dog in a protective cocoon, he got into the front seat, all the while continuing his monologue to the new passenger in our back seat, who just sat there, not making a sound. Its huge, tragically sad eyes shifted from Frank to me and back again.
Frank drove slowly and carefully down the street so as to not unduly jostle the new passenger, explaining to me that the dog’s jaw was frozen shut, which explained why the dog made no sounds other than occasional moans. Needless to say, the only errand done that day was to find a vet, get necessary medical attention and bring our newest addition home. There was no identity chip or collar ID tag on the dog, and no internet, so other than putting out fliers in the neighborhood, there was little else we could do.
The vet treated the frozen jaw, examined the dog and discovered that other than a case of hypothermia and starvation, our new addition was a 1-year-old spayed female Irish Setter in generally decent health. We took her home, fed her warm softened dog food, and let her sleep in her new doggy bed, covered with the blankets from our initial rescue.
Initially, she was apprehensive and hesitant, but as we continually talked to her as if we expected her to reply to us, little by little, Kelly (her new name) began to thaw out, externally and internally. She would follow us in and out of every room, never making a sound, but ever watchful over our actions. Thankfully, I was on winter break from the school where I was teaching, so for at least two weeks, I could be home with Kelly full time.
After the first week, she become more relaxed and even allowed me to go into another room without shadowing me. We began to experiment with brief departures to see how she would react alone in our apartment. To our amazement, she not only didn’t destroy anything, but she lay quietly in her bed, only getting up when she heard our key in the door to stand there at the door, at attention, all eyes and ears watching us as we returned.
Over the 15 years that followed, Kelly was our constant companion. She grew to her full height of 30 inches and a muscular 90 pounds, always demonstrating a quiet, calm, gentle demeanor. My mother would insist on taking her for a walk around the block, because she knew Kelly loved ice cream, so every walk ended with a stop past the Dairy Queen on the corner! Two guilty conspirators with ice cream around their lips – every trip!
Her temperament with children was uncanny. The family who rented an apartment upstairs from us had a little toddler just beginning to learn how to stand on his own. Kelly sat rock still as little Louie would climb all over her, pretending she was his personal “horsie,” and even when his little hands grabbed onto her to pull himself upright, she never wavered.
Our little two-year-old niece was convinced she would teach Kelly a trick, so we could hear her relentlessly waving a little doggy treat in her tiny hand, urging Kelly to “say hello,” as this dog almost as tall as Sandy was, would follow her little frantically waving fist in fascination as it made imaginary circles in the air. One evening, as Sandy continued her attempts to train Kelly, much to the shock of all the adults in the room, Kelly opened her mouth and absorbed little Sandy’s hand up to the wrist. Time froze, we froze, the dog froze, Sandy froze with her entire hand completely surrounded by Kelly’s tooth-filled mouth. Seconds went by, then suddenly by the time any of us could react, we heard a resounding “pop” sound, as Sandy’s little fist suddenly emerged from Kelly’s mouth, covered in saliva, but without the doggy treat! It seems Kelly had taught Sandy a trick, instead!
In Nebraska, we discovered Kelly was a relentless field dog, who would retrieve any bird Frank could shoot during hunting season, never quitting until he practically had to carry her back to the car. Kelly would go goose hunting with Frank for hours. Unfortunately, one season, due to a work-related hand injury, poor Frank never felt quite confident enough to take his shot, so time after time, he had to face Kelly’s frustrated expression – she was more than ready to do her job and bring the goose back to him, if he ever did his! Poor thing, she never realized the reason for his hesitation.
During that fall, the town we lived in experienced a deadly tornado – and the three of us were caught in it, driving down the street as we saw power post after power post snap across the street one by one. Pulling into a ditch to avoid the electricity, poor Frank had Kelly in one hand and me in the other, as we crawled our way up the hill to seek shelter. I know she was terrified, because I knew I was, and we were both trembling with every lightning bolt and clap of thunder, as the pouring rain swept down the gully. Thankfully, a neighborhood church was hosting a spaghetti dinner, and they took in the three of us, wrapping us in blankets and feeding us all pasta as the children cared for Kelly.
I don’t know what kind of life Kelly might have had with her original owners, but I do know the life she had with us: her unconditional love and companionship toward all of us (especially children), her quiet protective streak, always putting herself between me and any strangers, and her natural instinct to be the best field dog in the world endeared her to us without ever being able to utter the word “hello” despite our niece’s best efforts. It was with Kelly that this adult learned what children with pets have known their entire lives: no matter how much love we can ever give them, rescue dogs always rescue us so much more.
Story submitted by Constance Kratky from Las Vegas, Nevada.
This story was originally shared on The Animal Rescue Site. Share your very own rescue story here!
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