47: Quiet Devotion

47: Quiet Devotion

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

Quiet Devotion

Fun fact: Helen Keller was the first American known to have an Akita, which was given to her when she was on a speaking tour in Japan.

I look at my grandchildren laughing and playing, and I think of Nago, our first dog. These precious children might not be here, playing on the floor, if the 150-pound Akita had died at puppy-hood of parvovirus like the veterinarian expected. If Nago hadn’t survived that ailment, I might not know the darlings who bounce about me with enthusiasm. But he didn’t die. He grew into the great beast that watched over my own toddlers twenty-some years ago.

I could never say that Nago was an affectionate dog — not like those smaller creatures that dance about one’s feet and nestle onto laps like an extension of their human companions. He was aloof — content to lie on the mat by the door and study my offspring through their seasons of growth and development. He was certainly alert — ever ready to put another dog in its place if it drew too near to his charges — but he wasn’t one to seek out the nuzzling and stroking and petting of the human hand. If my children overstepped protocol and reached for a shaggy hug, Nago simply relocated to another part of the house.

My children grew, and Nago’s sense of responsibility to them deepened. He joined in their backyard play as much as he was able — chasing a ball and then trotting off to watch from a vantage point. He joined us on our walks to the bus stop each morning and waited with me in the afternoons as the long yellow vehicle disgorged its occupants. In the hours between watching our children, he slept. His internal clock seemed to be set to the school-bus schedule and minutes before we would leave for the bus stop, he would rouse himself, give a good shake and meet me at the door. It was as though his heart beat to the piping voices of the three little girls in his care. It shouldn’t have surprised me that he would put his own life on the line for them.

I remember the March morning well that Nago showed the full extent of his devotion. The day had dawned frosty. The previous day’s spring melt had hardened into sheets of thin ice, hidden in the dark hues of the gravel road. We left for the bus stop, our breaths steaming the air and our children’s chatter cutting into the stillness. Nago trotted alongside me, his eyes scanning the ditches and returning to the children every so often. We crossed the main intersection and settled at our station fifteen feet west of the stop sign.

I never noticed my middle daughter’s gradual meander to the dust and gravel at the roadside by the stop sign where she decided to draw in the dirt. I was intent on looking to the west to see if the bus was on its way. I didn’t notice the pickup truck and its cargo charging up the hill behind me. I hadn’t seen the black ice on the crest of that hill. But I did see Nago leave my side and bolt for the road’s edge.

Some say that emergencies happen in slow motion. Others say they flash by in brief seconds. I can’t begin to place what happened next into either category other than to say that while the events unfolded with lightning speed, my reflexes locked as though mired in molasses. Nago, however, seemed to move with the fluid grace and speed of a wolf.

A local farmer, preparing for the upcoming season, had decided to move some of his equipment from one property to the other. Hitched firmly to the back of his pickup truck was an aging fertilizer spreader. I assume he wanted to get the thing moved before the traffic began to clog the town’s main corridors and he chose that early hour to do so. As his truck crested the hill toward the intersection, he began to brake — and discovered the black ice locked into the pitted surface of the road. In my frozen state, I watched the towed piece of machinery jackknife, swinging around toward the stooped form of my daughter, who was still drawing her masterpieces in the dirt.

And then Nago was there, slamming against her six-year-old body, shoving her out of the path of the truck and into the ditch. My daughter clung to his fur, her legs making twin tracks through hoary grass as he dragged her. The dog that lived his life shunning the hands of children now offered his back and side as a lifeline while he did what came naturally to him.

The sounds of gravel churning, brakes screeching and a motor groaning silenced in the aftermath of the moment. There was a brief hesitation as we stood there in shock, and then we all moved fast. I bolted for my daughter, wrapping her in a hug and pulling her back with her sisters. Nago trotted at my side again as though nothing had happened. The truck driver pulled into the parking lot next to us and dropped his forehead to the steering wheel while a bus driver from another district school looked on — horror and relief clearly etched across her face.

We gathered around Nago and petted him as much as he would allow, and I wondered if he understood what he had done for our family. The moment of electric excitement that could have ended in tragedy rolled past, and I watched my children step up onto their bus. Nago and I meandered home, I walking slowly, absorbing all that had been and could have been, while Nago chased imaginary rabbits in and out of the ditches.

Nago died two years later, on the anniversary of his heroic rescue. It was as though he wanted me to know that he understood what he’d given me. I still tear up when I think of what could have been. My children raise questioning eyes, and I can only shrug or pretend the tears are not there. And when I look at them and my grandchildren, I remember that heroic dog who avoided too much human contact but went full force into action when required.

~Donna Fawcett

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