79: Our Guardian Angel

79: Our Guardian Angel

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

Our Guardian Angel

Fun fact: Put a rescue alert sticker near your front door to alert firefighters that pets are in the home.

I drove the two-thousand-plus miles across country from Detroit to Los Angeles with my two young children in the back seat and all my important worldly possessions stuffed into my old Chevrolet. In other words, I packed sheet music, albums and stacks of writing tablets. As a lyricist/composer, I was arriving in Southern California to join the newly opened Motown Records as a contract songwriter. The first thing I did was rent a small, three-bedroom house in Hollywood, close to the Sunset Boulevard offices of my employer. I rented furniture and an upright piano. After all, I was a songwriter and had to have my writing tools on the premises.

The day after we arrived in California, I ran into an old friend from Detroit who wanted to move closer to town. She suggested we become roommates. I agreed, thinking of it as a blessing because the cost of living in Los Angeles was four times higher than Detroit. Splitting the rent with my friend sounded good to me. Marthea moved in the next day. Between her stuff and my stuff, there were boxes everywhere. We were slowly getting around to unpacking, but between the kids, working and getting adjusted to a new environment, I felt overwhelmed. Marthea hadn’t been there a week when one of her brothers came to visit. Bernard arrived with a bright smile, a bandana tied around his head, a free spirit and a German Shepherd on a long leash. The dog was friendly and liked people. My six- and seven-year-old children were thrilled to have an animal visit because we had always had a cat or dog at home in Detroit.

The brown-and-white German Shepherd’s name was Mordecai, and he made himself at home, the same way his master did. My friend’s brother had dinner with us and then fell asleep on the couch. To my surprise, he was still there the next morning. Another week went by, and Marthea tried to explain why her visiting brother was still sleeping on my couch and why his dog was still begging for table scraps. She promised that he would be gone by the end of that week. Bernard, she explained, was just waiting for an apartment to be painted, and then he was moving into his own spot. Meanwhile, the children had bonded with the delightfully friendly dog. Mordecai loved chasing the children and being chased. Although the large canine was always underfoot, I had also grown to love the animal. He was house-trained and wasn’t a noisy, barking dog. I appreciated that.

One hot, summer Saturday, we decided to take my kids to the ocean. We were all pretty amazed at the expansive Santa Monica beach, and the endless blue-green water was inviting. We spent all day racing in and out of the salty sea. As we drove back to Hollywood, we were pretty exhausted. The kids fell asleep five minutes into the forty-minute drive, and my roommate could hardly keep her eyes open. A thick fog rolled in as we drove, and the air suddenly turned cold. After bathing the children and washing the sea out of my hair, I collapsed in my bed. We were all knocked out.

Suddenly, Mordecai’s cold nose was nudging my arm. Then he whined and pressed his damp nose against my cheek, resting huge paws on the side of my mattress and standing on his back legs. That got my attention. He’d never done that before. I sat up, disoriented at first, and glanced at my alarm clock. It was 3:00 a.m. “What is it? What do you want at three in the morning? You want to be let out?”

That’s when I smelled the smoke. I leaped out of bed and ran to the living room. As usual, Marthea’s brother was fast asleep on my couch, snoring loudly, and just five feet away from him sat a stack of still-unpacked cardboard boxes. One of them was sitting on top of the iron grate that covered the heating duct in the floor. The heat had come on automatically and the cardboard had caught on fire.

I raced to the kitchen with Mordecai close behind, watching my every move and whining. I filled the first pot I saw with water and raced back, dousing the fire with the pot of water and pulling the box off the dangerous duct. I started calling out loudly, “Fire! Fire!” to awaken the rest of the family. Mordecai joined in, suddenly barking loudly. Everyone woke up and we opened all the doors and windows to let the smoke escape. We sat huddled together on the couch, shaking from the experience. I felt thankful and blessed. After all, if it hadn’t been for Mordecai, we could have burned down the entire house and been killed in the fire.

I will always be grateful for that friendly dog that saved our lives that night. Bernard moved into his new apartment a few days later, and I didn’t miss him that much, but I did miss his dog, our guardian angel.

~Dee Dee McNeil

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