Tales of the wagging kind

January 2015

One year ago this week, just a few days after Christmas, a devastating fire claimed another Vermont home. The Bristol Fire Department arrived on the scene, but it was too late. Most of the home was engulfed in flames and later burned to the ground. The homeowners were not home, but their two dogs were.

As investigators combed through the destruction, firefighters continued to battle hot spots. Soon after, the homeowners arrived in horror as they witnessed the scene of what was their home just a few hours before.

For some reason, I have always imagined this scenario as my worst nightmare. Maybe you have, too. If your relationship with your pets is anything similar to mine with my two dogs, I’m sure this has made you stop in your tracks. I think of how I was raised believing objects can be replaced. But certainly those we love — people and pets — cannot. 

I’ve always said, “If anything were to happen while we are away, I hope our pets are with us.”

As I continued to read the story of this fire last year, I was jolted with the reminder that miracles really do happen. Just as the homeowners were arriving on the scene, both dogs crept out from under what was left of the still burning deck in the backyard. Although they both needed immediate medical attention, they were otherwise fine.

Although I’ve never met these folks from Bristol, I haven’t forgotten this story. For me, it takes on several meanings. First, it serves as another reminder of how resilient dogs are. Their primal willpower to survive is something that astonishes me when I hear stories like this. 

It reminds me of all that dogs can teach us, but resiliency alone might be what stands out the most. And, of course, I couldn’t help but cite countless and remarkable examples of obstacles Buddy had to endure and overcome.

I then thought of a few other dogs that have made the news within the year. The newly adopted one that was separated from its owner and ran away, afraid and confused. That dog crossed more than 20 miles of harsh terrain through our Vermont woodlands before instinctively finding its way back to the kennel from which it was adopted. There the dog was reunited with a canine companion whom it had missed. When the runaway dog’s owners arrived, they learned of the reasoning behind the long journey and adopted the canine friend as well. Now both pups lead a happy and contented life together.

Or how about Zorro, the 16-year-old deaf and blind black Lab? On Jan. 1 last year, Zorro was ejected from the vehicle driven by his 83-year-old owner, who fell asleep at the wheel on Interstate 91. After sliding more than 20 feet down an embankment, the vehicle came to rest upside down. While Zorro’s elderly owners were taken to the hospital, Zorro ran off and hid in the cold, snowy hills of Rockingham. 

Despite temperatures well below freezing, Zorro kept moving and survived the night. He was found 12 hours later by a state trooper, slowly making his way down the side of the interstate. Zorro had forgotten about that big tumor in the back of his right leg that slowed him down. He pushed on with a will not only to find his owners, but mostly to survive. 

And then there is the story of Trooper, who gained worldwide media attention not along ago after being nearly dragged to death behind a pickup in St. Louis. Now fully healed, Trooper found his forever home filled with love just in time for the holidays. There’s even a children’s book titled “Trooper’s Triumphs” that tells his story of abuse, neglect and ultimately survival. 

I’ve always said if we can learn to lead our lives by example of our pets, it will foster a deeper sense of what matters most within us. And if you allow them to teach you, among many other things, how to live your life with resiliency and determination, your attitude and outlook on challenges you face will surely improve. 

Because if a dog wants to survive badly enough, it will do anything to make that happen. They rarely give up. But when they do, and death defeats them, you can almost always be assured they stared it straight in the eye, snarled their best snarl and gave it one vicious fight.

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