Early in 1977, I shattered my ankle, and met my future husband in the hospital. He put on my cast & we became engaged that same year. He asked me what I wanted for our wedding present, and I said A DOG!
Shortly after our wedding we settled down to married life. My new husband and I went to DOG ORPHANS (link below) in Massachusetts, a no-kill shelter. I hoped to find a German Shepherd, which is what my family owned when I was a girl.
There were no Shepherds in the shelter, and my husband was partial to hunting dogs. I asked if there were any other large dogs, and was told about an abused Irish setter in bad shape. He'd been beaten, neglected, starved, and was full of parasites. He didn't even have a name yet, just a number. The male dog wasn't healthy enough to be released from quarantine, but I could see him now if I wanted.
I said, "Sure, why not?" Five minutes later the handler was back. The dog hid under the desk, cowering. The handler tried to coax him out, pulling gently on the leash, but he didn't come until I said, "Come here, boy."
I managed to touch the silky fur on his head just once, then the dog yanked the leash out of the handler's hand. The setter hurled himself against the closed front office door, popped it open, and took off running.
This was near a busy route, with heavy traffic. All I could imagine was squished dog. The three of us ran out into the parking lot, but he’d disappeared! I was the one who eventually found him--head out of the open window of my car. There must have been 50 vehicles in the parking lot, and we weren’t anywhere near the front door, yet this Setter was in my back seat! I don't know how he found my car so quickly, or had the strength in his starved body to jump inside. I had a tiny little subcompact, and he was all legs. Quarantine or not, that dog wasn't leaving without a fight. He watched me with big brown eyes, and I knew.
I looked at men & said, "I guess he's coming home with me." My spouse returned to fill out paperwork and I climbed in the back seat with the runaway. I named my new dog Brandy, after the color of his coat, and we nursed him back to health, no easy task. He was hand-shy around men, and trust came slowly, except with me.
Brandy decided he was mine. My husband didn't even exist. Brandy and I were great pals. We’d go to the park for long walks, and later, in the woods. I’d exercise my bad leg, and he would run circles around me, chasing squirrels and tennis balls--but he never let me out of his sight.
Soon afterward, my husband graduated with his degree. We moved to a first floor apartment in a 6-unit triple-decker, the New England kind. We didn't have a lot of money back then, and the neighborhood wasn't the greatest, but it wasn't the worst, either. Even though my husband worked nights, I was never frightened with Brandy at my side.
One winter evening, my husband worked late, and Brandy and I were home alone. I suddenly remembered the next day was trash day, and I hurried to take it out. It was snowing in the dark, but the dumpster was just a few yards from my back door--so close I didn't even bother with a coat over my sweater. I dashed outside, dumped the bags, and ran back again. SHOCK CITY.
Back inside the kitchen, Brandy had trapped a male stranger behind my unlocked back door. Brandy had him cornered, and every tooth was bared. Brandy flicked a quick glance at me, but his head remained frozen in place, his legs tensed, muscles coiled. "Lady, call off your dog!" the man begged.
Outside on the back porch, I started shaking from fear. "What are you doing here?" I managed to ask. The intruder said he "thought this was my girlfriend's new apartment," and he wanted to "surprise her." I didn't believe him. Brandy didn't either. His posture screamed DANGER, every red hair on his neck a warning flag, his teeth a barricade. I didn’t know what to do. Brandy stood between the man inside and me outside.
There were no cell phones then. I backed away to run up the stairs. Only then did Brandy release the man and chase him outside. A few moments later, my dog returned to my side. Together we ran inside my apartment. I slammed the door, locked it and called the police. They didn’t catch him in the dark night’s snowstorm, not with that head start. But when Brandy relaxed, I knew I was okay.
A few days later the snow stopped, the storm over. I drove to meet my husband at work for lunch--Brandy, as always, in my back seat. The police were outside our triple-decker when I returned home. The woman directly upstairs from me had been robbed, then repeatedly stabbed to death. The police said she was alone, elderly, and didn't have a chance.
A few weeks later the killer was caught and arrested, the same man Brandy had trapped when I took out the trash. I couldn't believe it. I gave him a big steak for dinner--and from that night on he slept on our bed instead of his blanket on the floor. My husband and I left the neighborhood for a new house in a better neighborhood. We added a baby boy and girl and another Setter, Scarlett O'Hara, to our happy family. I looked forward many more years with Brandy at my side.
It was not to be. Brandy started losing weight. I took him to our vet. Bad news. Brandy had cancer, canine leukemia which would metasticize. The vet could do nothing. He advised me to let my dog enjoy the rest of his short life. Soon the day would come when I had to grant him a peaceful death before true suffering attacked.
On that day, my husband told me to stay home with the kids. I refused. Brandy was my dog, and I would stay with him through the end. I let him romp through the autumn foliage in the woods one last time, the New England maple leaves the same beautiful red as the coat over his now-thin, weakened body.
He enjoyed that last run, even with his labored breathing. When he finally finished, we went for our last ride together. I sat in the vet parking lot for a long time, hugging him, whispering my love, and thanking him for his. Then we went inside. I held him until Brandy's last, peaceful breath stopped. I petted the red coat one last time, unfastened the shamrock green collar, and went home--alone.
Almost 30 years later, I still adopt my beloved dogs, but no Irish Setters. Brandy jumped in my car for no earthly reason--and after a few short years--left me just as suddenly. In between, for reasons known only to God, my bonny boy saved me. Only me.