90: Clover and Bear

90: Clover and Bear

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog

Clover and Bear

It is not so much our friends’ help that helps us, as the confidence of their help.


The first day of March, 1997 turned out to be a very unusual Saturday. Unseasonably steamy, the air had a tangible unsettling feel to it. Weather stations warned that a quickly advancing cold front could cause some serious turbulence. Though it was not out of Arkansas’ character for thunderstorms to display tornadic strength, it was markedly early for such volatile weather even in a state that averaged just over twenty tornadoes a year.

As I watched, pregnant thunderclouds darkened the late afternoon sky. The morning breeze now whipped at the forty-foot pines in my yard, whispering warnings of things to come. The alerts, which had been beeping across the top of the television screen for several hours, advised that fifty-eight of Arkansas’ seventy-five counties were in the path of seriously unstable weather. Moving from window to window, I kept a watchful eye on the skies amid glances at Doppler radar screens flaming with red and orange in what seemed like every area of the state. When the shrill siren finally screamed through southwest Little Rock, I gathered my menagerie into the downstairs bathroom and wondered why I had to fall in love with a house nestled smack in tornado alley.

When the blare of the warnings finally subsided, the house was still standing and seemingly none the worse for wear though a dozen or more heavy limbs littered the yard. We were lucky. Incredibly lucky. By morning fifteen major tornadoes had blasted across the state; over two dozen people perished. According to experts, twisters rarely stay on the ground more than a few miles, but several of these storms left paths of devastation over fifty miles long. The storm that had skirted my home, set down originally in Arkadelphia, a town about sixty miles to the west. The twister carved a half-mile wide strip of destruction through four counties, as it barreled east into the southern part of Arkansas’s capital city. Authorities reported the storm’s intensity to be up to the F4 level, with winds over 200 miles per hour, along the way. The damage left in its wake was profound.

A late-night call changed my plans for a lazy Sunday and ended up changing my life. Gray and drizzly with an unexpected bite of winter, the second of March was the kind of day that chilled you to the bone. Adorned in boots, jeans, sweaters, and backpacks, animal rescue volunteers gathered at a local shelter and waited for word from the police that we could begin our search for injured and displaced animals.

My team ended up in Sardis, a residential area just southwest of the city. Bone-chilling mist was made worse by the fact there were still downed electrical lines emitting sparks from place to place and reports of active gas leaks. Parking at the perimeter of the devastated area, we started our hike not knowing what we would find. As we neared what had been a tract of about a dozen homes, a sense of otherworldliness invaded my soul. Collapsed skeletal structures rose like gravestones where homes once stood. It was impossible to tell which shattered piece of furniture belonged to which demolished house. Cautiously feeling the way over dangerous blown out walls, broken glass, downed trees, and unidentifiable debris, my brain had trouble processing the errant baby shoe lying in the mud or the golden-gowned doll protruding from beneath a cement block. The sheer magnitude of loss sent me reeling.

Owners plodded around in shock and disbelief—some in tears, most stunned into abject silence. When they learned who we were, more than a few pleaded for our help to find their furry companions, desperate to salvage at least their dearly loved animals. We reassured them as best we could and began the daunting task of cajoling scampering dogs and furtive felines—all unnerved by the trauma—into trusting we were friends. By afternoon, we were cold, wet, hungry, and exhausted, but we had rescued a good number of animals and knew many more would surface in the days to come as hunger replaced fear as the primary instinct.

As we plodded toward our vehicles to head to another location, we spotted two dogs haphazardly making their way down a dirt-packed road. As the canines approach, the smaller dog kept bumping and pushing her larger companion this way and that. What in the world was she doing? Responding to our welcoming calls, the dogs ventured closer, barking with relief to find friendly humans. Chow mixes with fuzzy tails that curled above their hind ends, the duo enthusiastically greeted us and we quickly realized the larger dog’s eyes were closed and crusted over. As my dog-lover colleagues slipped leashes around the necks of our newest rescues, it became clear that the smaller one had been nudging her friend to keep him on a trail that he could not see.

After a day amid indescribable devastation and hundreds of traumatized people, these two canine comrades—quickly named Clover and Bear—had come bumbling into our path. What a symbol this doggie duo was of the undaunted spirit of those who survive disastrous situations. Without Clover’s continual correction, Bear would have been lost in the havoc resulting from the relentless storm; he could easily have starved to death if not discovered by some kind soul. Instead of seeking safety and solace, Clover refused to leave Bear’s side, instinctively knowing he needed her guidance to survive.

Clover and Bear were two of nearly three hundred animals rescued in the aftermath of those terrible storms. While some badly injured animals didn’t make it, Bear was one of the lucky ones. His eye trouble was caused by a painful condition called entropion, in which the eyelid rolls inward causing the eyelashes to irritate and possibly damage the eye. After surgery enabled Bear to see again; he and Clover remained the best of pals and favorites of everyone they encountered. Almost sixty percent of the rescued animals were eventually reunited with their human families. Like the other animals whose owners couldn’t be found or could no longer keep them, Clover and Bear were placed into adoptive homes—our heroes went together, of course.

Disasters push people and animals into places they have never been emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. More often than not, they bring out the best in survivors, enabling them to uncover hidden strength, to forge relationships they might never have known, and to rediscover what is truly important in life. That’s exactly what these furry friends on four legs experienced. Clover and Bear, two funny dogs with curly tails, made their way from disaster to safety and new lives by sticking together.

~Nancy Sullivan

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