My second dog came to me while teaching school on the Canadian prairie. One night during the winter, when temperatures were so low they were dangerous to man and beast, I heard a scratching on my front door. No one should have been at my door. After all, there was a blizzard going on outside. It was also very late at night. I crept to the door and listened. Again came the scratching. Living alone does things to one’s imagination. I made a mental note to buy a baseball bat and a can of mace. Too late for that now. Cautiously I cracked open the door and peeked out. On my front step was a shivering black and tan pup with white hairs throughout her coat… and no collar. She looked so beseechingly at me that my heart melted. I coaxed her inside, where she wagged, wriggled, and licked her way into staying for good. Oh, I asked around. I put up notices at the local grocery store. But secretly I hoped the owner would stay lost.
After some research I found that my new dog was a Queensland Heeler. Lady, as I named her, had her faults. She had strong herding instincts: she nipped at the heels of everyone she met. She barked when left home in the fenced yard I’d provided for her, even though she had water, toys and chew bones. She ended up pregnant and bore four pups that I had to find homes for. Notwithstanding all my troubles as I learned how to be a responsible dog owner, Lady was a loving companion. I used to sneak her into the school at night while I did my lesson plans and marked papers, and she’d sleep under my desk and keep my feet warm.
On one such night the power went out. I grabbed my coat, purse, and Lady’s leash. Then I felt my way along the walls of the hallway. Somehow I made my way to the front door of the school. Once outside, I was dismayed to find that the power for the whole town was out. Inky blackness greeted me, along with the biting, lonely prairie wind. The only light was from the faint stars in the sky. I couldn’t even see my hands. So I wrapped the leash around one hand and told her, “Go home, Lady, Go home.” Lady eagerly set out with me hanging on, hoping she really knew the way home. At first we headed straight west and my feet thudded on the sidewalk. Suddenly she veered left, sniffing madly at something irresistible. “Lady, go home!” I yelled, wincing and yelping as branches slapped my face. I stumbled over something and fell, scraping my hands. Thankfully I still had a firm grasp of the leash. Lady continued to lead me as she left messages for other dogs and wound her way around the bushes along the way. This was definitely not the fastest way home. “Home, Lady!” I hung on desperately as I strained to see anything that would tell me where we were headed. I had a whole new appreciation for well trained seeing eye dogs and the faith their companions put in them. Finally, we stumbled up the steps of my duplex. With frozen hands I fumbled in my pocket for the key. Once inside, I searched for a candle and matches in the frigid kitchen. Light greeted me. Lady pranced around the room, proud of her accomplishment. I left on my coat and hat, added two more pairs of socks to my feet, and huddled in bed. Lady burrowed in with me, warming my side. In the flickering light, I scratched her behind the ears and praised her. “Lady, you’ll never make a seeing eye dog, but I’m glad you got me home.” She licked my face and thumped her tail. I was never so grateful for a canine friend as that night.