Good Instincts

Good Instincts

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Good Instincts

If your dog doesn’t like someone, you probably shouldn’t either.

Unknown

The wind whistled round the corner of the house, thunder rolled and rain slashed against the windows—not a night to be outside but rather to sit by the fire, thankful for the solid walls and roof overhead. I could imagine Dr. Frankenstein’s creation being abroad on such a night. Iwas alone, my husband away and the nearest neighbor a quarter mile down the road. Alone, that is, except for Lassie, a shaggy, black-and-white border collie, who sat with her head inmy lap, her intelligent, brown eyes gazing up atme as if to say, Don’t worry, we’ll be all right.

Lassie had arrived at our front door four years earlier by her design, not ours. Throughout the eighteen years she was with us, she proved time and time again to be a superb judge of character. We never knew if it was as a result of her sense of smell or sound—or some sixth sense—but, whatever it was, she definitely possessed a talent we humans lacked. On first meeting she would either wag the tip of her tail a couple of times to indicate that the visitor was acceptable, or slightly curl her top lip, which told you to be wary. Always accurate, her gift was never more apparent than on this night.

The doorbell rang. I decided not to answer it. It rang again, more insistently this time. Whoever was there was not going away. Still I hesitated. On the fourth ring, with Lassie by my side, I finally answered the call. My stomach lurched and my mouth went dry, for there, silhouetted by the porch light, stood the monster himself. Not as big as I imagined but equally menacing. A twisted body under a heavy overcoat, one shoulder hunched higher than the other, and his head leaning slightly forward and to one side. Gnarled fingers at the end of a withered arm touched his cap.

“May I use your phone?” The voice came from somewhere back in his throat and, although the request was polite, his tone was rough.

I shrank back as he rummaged in his pocket and produced a piece of paper. Shuffling forward he handed it to me. I refused to take it. Believing he might try and force his way in, I looked at Lassie to see if she was ready to defend the homestead. Surprisingly, she sat by my side, the tip of her tail wagging.

You’re out of your mind, Lassie, I thought. But there was no denying the sign and, based on past experience, I trusted her instincts.

Reluctantly, I beckoned the stranger into the hallway and pointed to the phone. He thanked me as he picked up the instrument. Unashamed, I stood and listened to the conversation. From his comments, I learned his van had broken down and he needed someone to repair it. Lassie always shadowed anyone she mistrusted until they left the house. Tonight she paid no attention to our visitor. Instead, she trotted back into the living room and curled up by the fire.

Finishing his call, the man hitched up the collar of his overcoat and prepared to leave. As he turned to thank me, his lopsided shoulders seemed to sag and a touch of sympathy crept into my fear.

“Can I offer you a cup of tea?” Thewordswere out before I could stop them.

His eyes lit up. “That would be nice.”

We went through to the kitchen. He sat while I put the kettle on. Bent over on the stool, he looked less menacing, but I still kept a wary eye on him. By the time the tea had brewed, I felt safe enough to draw up another stool. We sat in silence, facing each other across the table, cups of steaming tea in front of us.

“Where are you from?” I finally asked, for the sake of conversation.

“Birmingham,” he answered, then paused. “I’m sorry if I frightened you,” he continued, “but you’ve no need to worry. I know I look strange, but there’s a reason.”

I said nothing, and we continued to sip in silence. I felt he would talk when he was ready, and he did.

“I wasn’t always like this,” he said. I sensed, rather than heard, the catch in his voice. “But some years ago I had polio.”

“Oh,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“I was laid up for months. When I managed to walk again, I couldn’t get a job. My crippled body put everyone off. Eventually, I was hired as a delivery driver, and as you know from my phone call, my van broke down outside your house.” He smiled his crooked smile. “I really should be getting back so I’m there when the mechanic arrives.”

“Look,” I said. “There’s no need to sit outside in this weather. Why not leave a note in your van telling them where you are?”

He smiled again. “I’ll do that.”

When he returned, we settled by the fire in the living room. “You know,” I said, “if it hadn’t been for Lassie here, I wouldn’t have let you in.”

“Oh,” he said, bending forward to scratch her head. “Why?”

I went on to explain her uncanny ability to judge people, then added, “She sensed you for what you really are, while I only saw the outside.”

“Lucky for me she was around,” he said, laughing.

After two hours and several more cups of tea, the doorbell rang again. A man wearing overalls under a hooded raincoat announced the vehicle was repaired.

Thanking me profusely, the stranger headed out into the night, and a few minutes later, the taillights of his van disappeared down the road. I never expected to see him again.

But on the afternoon of Christmas Eve I answered the door to find the rainy-night stranger standing there. “For you,” he said, handing me a large box of chocolates, “for your kindness.” Then he placed a packet of dog treats in my other hand. “And these are for Lassie, my friend with the good instincts. Merry Christmas to you both.”

Every Christmas Eve, untilwemoved five years later, he arrived with his box of chocolates and packet of dog treats. And every year he got the same warm welcome from our wise Lassie.

Gillian Westhead
as told to Bill Westhead

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