27: Music to My Ears

27: Music to My Ears

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

Music to My Ears

The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog.

~George Graham

I never wanted my dogs. My sister foisted them on me with the plea that they would end up in the shelter if I didn’t give them a home. Knowing that Beagles are often not adopted, I sighed and agreed to take them. But I didn’t choose them.

My dogs are annoying and nearly impossible to train. They steal the covers and lie on my feet until circulation to my toes has all but ceased. If I don’t watch my food, they’ll steal it in stealth maneuvers so impressive that they could teach the Army Rangers a thing or two. At fifty dollars per dog per infraction, I’ve had to bail them out of “doggy jail” on several occasions. Once they catch a scent, they’ll follow it until a dogcatcher hauls them off. Worst of all, their howls make the windows vibrate and, on occasion, ears bleed.

However, it was that same howling that saved our lives.

It was a bitter cold day in January 2009. It was so cold, in fact, that my husband Matt, a diehard hunting fanatic, decided to stay home. We later learned it was the coldest day of that year.

After returning home from a long day, and an even longer week teaching, I lay down in my bed, deciding to renew myself with a quick nap before a supper of venison stew and biscuits. The house was quite cozy, a fire roaring in the wood stove.

While I slept, Matt played a historical strategy computer game. He was happily taking over Pompeii with his virtual army when he heard our two Beagle pups, barely a year old. The howl was eerie and unlike any he’d heard before. He immediately went into the living room to investigate.

Alice and Twain, named for Alice Walker and Mark Twain respectively, each stood on a different piece of furniture. With hackles raised, both stood stock-still, howling directly at the fireplace.

After considering their strange behavior, Matt realized something must be terribly wrong. Hurrying outside, Matt found thick, black smoke billowing out of the eaves next to the chimney.

I awoke to the sound of him calling my name. At first I thought it was dinnertime, but then I processed that he’d said the house was on fire. I could hear the fire in the second floor, the rush of air that sounded like a distant freight train. The crackles and snaps were discernible through the ceiling above the bed. I leaped up, my heart pounding. Not even stopping to locate my glasses or put on shoes, I grabbed the leashes and led the dogs, who never stopped howling, into the driveway. My husband called the fire department to report that our house was on fire. As we stood in the road, watching the second floor burn, the smoke detectors finally issued their shrill warnings.

I stood on the frozen ground in my wool socks, holding the leashes of the dogs, who had calmed considerably. Usually, they pulled and tugged when put on a leash, always wanting to follow some unseen scent trail. After one extremely challenging walk, we had agreed to quit trying to train them to a leash, for fear the next nightly walk might end up in whiplash.

On this day, though, they seemed to sense my fear and shock as the firefighters ran across the yard, pulling hoses and shouting, trying to save our house. The Beagles, for once, stood quietly beside me, only barking when they saw Matt. Worried that I was cold without a jacket or shoes, my neighbors tried to convince me to go into their house, but I refused to leave the dogs.

After the fire had been put out, the fire marshal told us that an ember from a fire had escaped through a crack in the mortar of the chimney. It smoldered behind the plaster walls, possibly for days, until it reached an air pocket, which caused the house to catch fire in earnest. Since the fire started between the walls, the smoke detectors would not have detected the fire until much later.

As it stood, we lost part of the second floor of the house. I could see the cold January sky through the ruins of my living room ceiling. Whenever people would exclaim how terrible the fire must have been, Matt and I always would shrug and reply, “It’s just stuff.” Thanks to Alice and Twain, that’s all we lost.

When guests come by and wonder how we can stand the canine opera, I just smile and shrug. It’s music to my ears.

~Amanda Kemp

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