10: When Natty Rescued Nami

10: When Natty Rescued Nami

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?

When Natty Rescued Nami

Nothing but heaven itself is better than a friend who is really a friend.

~Plautus

Tsunami, our two-year-old Akita that we called Nami for short, did not take readily to our new country home. When my husband Ken and I lived near Washington, D.C., we took her to the dog park for a romp at least twice a week. She played beach ball soccer with the other dogs and permitted curious toddlers to unfurl her trademark, curled tail.

We praised her for how patiently she permitted admirers to ooh and ahh over her white foreleg markings, so symmetrical that one lady actually called across the field to ask where I had purchased her cute snow boots.

When I retired, though, we moved to a country home in Northeast Washington State, far from such civilized canine playgrounds. Because our pastures were fenced with barbed wire, easy for even a large dog to crawl under, Nami could only play outside attached to her nylon lead. We hooked two together to give her a forty-foot range, and provided her with an array of Kongs, balls and rope toys. But when we put her out to romp, Nami would give her Kong a listless nudge or the ball a disconsolate sideways kick, and then plop down and yawn.

Our veterinarian neighbor’s trio of retired racehorses roamed on the other side of the fence. Whenever they emitted a snort, nicker or whinny, Nami would glance disdainfully in their direction, making it clear to us that she knew they were some other strange species, not tall dogs, and certainly not worthy of much interest.

We soon learned that people frequently left litters at The Flour Mill, a local feed store, in hopes that the unwanted kittens, pups or bunnies would be adopted. I brought home three little kittens, but Ken warned me that Nami probably would regard them as potential snacks rather than playmates. Other than emitting an occasional halfhearted growl of annoyance, Nami simply appeared bored with the kittens’ antics.

“We have to get her a pet,” Ken soon announced. He headed for the Mill that afternoon and returned toting a seven-week-old livewire, a shaggy black mongrel with a dapper white chest.

“A notice on the litter box said that the dad was a Great Pyrenees and the mom a Heinz 57 combo,” he said, handing me the wiggling ball of fur.

The pup didn’t weigh much more than the kittens. “He looks so natty,” I said. “I’m calling him Natty.”

“I’m calling him Nat then,” Ken rejoined. “No diminutives for my buddy here.”

We took Nat out to the yard, where Nami was dozing in the sun. He bounded over, climbed up her flank and nibbled on her ear. For the first time since we moved, Nami perked up. All day she lay contented while the puppy gnawed her ankle, swatted her nose with his tiny paw, and nestled under her chin to sleep.

Nat trotted after Nami as she roamed the yard. He began to join her in batting balls, playing tug-of-war with fringed ropes, and chasing the kittens if they strayed into their territory. He soon learned that he could play keep-away tag with Nami, running just outside the circumference of her lead. As Nat grew, they began to wrestle, and Nami sometimes rolled over and appeared to let him win. Apparently she knew how to keep her playmate motivated to continue the contests.

Then one winter afternoon while the dogs gamboled in the yard, I ducked into the house for a moment. When I returned they were gone. Nami’s hooked-together nylon leads had somehow unsnapped.

Ken and I drove up and down the nearby roads, stopping now and then to call their names. Alas, they had vanished, most likely into the surrounding hills. “Don’t worry,” Ken reassured me. “When they get tired of roaming, they’ll come home.” But I did worry. Nami was trailing that nylon lead behind her, and I kept imagining it getting tangled in shrubbery, trapping her in the woods.

A little after sundown, while Ken drove off again to search, I went outside to call their names. After a few minutes I thought I heard sounds from the back pasture. Sure enough, here came Natty, panting, damp, out of breath. He flopped down at my feet, tongue hanging out, and eyes wild. I bent and patted him. “Where’s Nami . . . where’s your Nami?” I pleaded.

Nat kept staring back across the pasture from whence he came. I began to shiver in the icy moonless night. “Natty, where’s Nami?” I asked once more. Nat, still panting, lurched to his feet, and trotted back across the dark field. I thought I heard some distant growls and grunts. Soon I could make out the white patch on his small dark form as he slowly trudged back towards me. Then I saw the much larger Nami limping behind. As they drew closer I saw that Nat had the end of Nami’s nylon lead in his mouth. After every step or two the pair paused. Then Natty would step forward and tug and Nami would inch forward, more and more haltingly.

I rushed out to help, but Nami weighed nearly as much as me so I couldn’t carry her. She barely made it up the step to the side door, then heaved herself inside and collapsed on the carpet. I could tell she was in a lot of pain.

“They came home, but she’s hurt,” I told Ken when he returned. “There’s something wrong with her legs, but Natty brought her out of the pasture with her lead in his mouth.” Ken gave me a skeptical glance. “Are you sure? That sounds highly improbable.”

“I saw it, Ken. Natty brought her home from the field.”

The next morning we took Nami to the vet. She had ruptured her anterior cruciate ligaments and would require surgery. Apparently on their excursion she had jumped over fences. Large dogs such as Akitas are prone to such injuries, the vet explained. Nami underwent two operations, one leg at a time. Natty remained by her side during the weeks of her recovery. In the meantime we had the back yard securely chain-linked-fenced so that the pair could play outdoors freely.

Nami’s nearing eleven now, and Natty’s nine. Nami’s still much larger, but the lifelong companions on occasion still wrestle and play tug of war as equals. Nami, of course, even though arthritic, remains the alpha dog, a regal queen reigning over her backyard realm. Natty, her devoted servant, more loyal than royal, despite partial blindness from cataracts, follows her around faithfully.

He may never merit a crown, but brave Natty certainly deserves a medal. We got him one. His dog tag reads: “Natty H.” The H stands for Hero.

~Terri Elders

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