50: The Night Coffee Woke Up

50: The Night Coffee Woke Up

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

The Night Coffee Woke Up

Fun fact: Black Labradors, rather than yellow or chocolate Labs, are favored among hunters because they blend well into the scenery, making them less noticeable to prey.

I didn’t know I wanted a dog until we got one. Shortly after we bought our home, my husband, EW, secretly perused the classifieds seeking a black Labrador puppy. When caught, he began to list his reasons: “She would be a good watchdog. Mo (his son, who lived with us part-time) needs a dog. A home isn’t a home without a dog. Did I say that it would be good to have a watchdog?” I was not convinced, but still we drove to a nearby small Maine town with a blank check and returned with the cutest puppy in the world. She had a short puppy nose, a fat puppy belly, lively black eyes, and a livelier tongue. I admit that I carried her home in my arms and was smitten.

We named her Morrison’s Midwatch Coffee. She was a pedigreed black Labrador. Morrison was our son’s name, Midwatch had been a name on her sire’s side, and Coffee was the name we would use for her. We drink our coffee black and we sail, so it all fit. Our home was an old four-square on a large city lot, just a block back from the water of the Fore River in Casco Bay. During the three cooler seasons, she went to work every day with EW, riding in the back seat, taking swim breaks and coffee breaks that often included a game of fetch with a tennis ball. EW sold marine supplies, and many of his customers had dog-friendly shops, with dog biscuits in jars for visitors. Coffee was living the good life.

She had chores to do at home. She greeted neighbors on three sides, played T-ball with the little girl next door, and gave unconditional love to everyone. While she would bark whenever someone pulled into the driveway, she wasn’t the best guard dog. When EW’s cousin Jeffrey and two friends delivered a sailboat to Maine from the Caribbean, they showed up looking and smelling like three guys who’ve been on a boat for three weeks. We’d told Jeff where to find the key, and he’d asked us about the “guard dog.” Upon our advice, Jeff simply unlocked the back door, put his hand out to a madly barking sixty-pound dog, and said, “Hey, Coffee. Good girl.” She totally caved.

“Yep, glad we got a guard dog,” I scoffed that night.

Jeffrey laughed and looked at EW. “That’s how you got Barb to agree to a dog?”

EW smiled. “It worked. Even if Coffee doesn’t.”

She slept in our room at night. Every so often, she would find something disturbing outside and wake us. Actually, she would wake me. Every time. While EW slumbered peacefully next to me, Coffee would stand at the window on my side of the bed and growl… at something. Perhaps a neighbor was getting home late, or a squirrel had run from treetop to roof, or a raccoon was looking for an open garbage can. Coffee would hear it, decide I needed to know, and growl — starting softly and getting progressively louder until I rolled out of bed, identified the threat, patted her on the head and fell back onto my pillows.

Early one spring morning, her growls began louder and quickly escalated to short barks. Still, EW slept (or pretended to) while I jumped out of bed and ran to the window. Down below, three men were dragging a large inflatable dinghy with attached motor past our home, keeping to the grass as much as possible. Like Coffee, I knew this was suspicious. First, this was a nice dinghy, and no one who owned it would drag it without a trailer. Second, they were heading away from the river and ocean. I made the call.

“South Portland Police Department, what is your emergency?”

“I’m calling from North Marriner Street, and there are three men who I believe are stealing a dinghy.”

“Why do you think they are stealing it? Is it your dinghy?”

“No. It’s a very large inflatable. They are dragging it into the field away from the water, and they don’t have a trailer.”

“Stay inside, Ma’am. We have officers on the way. Can you describe these men for me?”

So I did, guessing at their height, describing their build, noting their hair color and clothing, while Coffee ran from window to window on the first floor, barking and keeping them in sight for as long as possible. By now, EW had gotten up and also kept a lookout. Two police cars passed our home, heading toward the field where our street ended.

Since the dispatcher had asked me to remain available, EW took Coffee for her morning constitutional and “business” trip, while I made coffee. They had returned and we’d all had breakfast by the time a police car pulled into the driveway and a uniformed officer knocked at the front door. Coffee, as she always did, made a good effort to act like a real guard dog, but the wagging tail didn’t go with the fierce bark, and he wasn’t fooled. “Good dog,” he said as he smoothed her head and fondled her ears. “Good morning, Ma’am. Is this the dog that caught our crooks?”

“Really?” I asked. “I was right?”

“Oh, yes. You sure were.” Turned out that these hapless fools were part of a gang formed to steal as many large inflatables as they could during one night. They had a panel truck into which they had hidden all but one inflatable — this last, irresistible one they didn’t want to leave behind. So the truck driver agreed to meet them in the field, and all these guys had to do was get that boat to the truck. The South Portland Police Department had taken my call seriously, blocked the three streets that had access to the field, arrested the gang and recovered all of the boats.

The officer in our living room patted Coffee again and offered her a large dog biscuit. As Coffee trotted off to her bed to enjoy her treat, the officer took my formal statement. The next day, a very small article appeared in the paper, and then we heard nothing about the case for weeks until Coffee once again alerted us one morning that a police car had pulled into the driveway. She was delighted and clearly remembered the officer (or at least the large biscuit).

She was not disappointed. Not only did she get another biscuit, she was presented with a police department citation, suitable for framing, declaring her to be an outstanding watchdog and a hero to the community. She may not have been the best guard dog ever, but she was smart enough to know when to kick into gear for the important stuff, and that’s what mattered.

~Barbara J. Hart

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