Dog ownership is a huge responsibility, yet next to raising a child, I cannot imagine anything more rewarding yet heartbreaking at the same time. For the last 26 years my family has been blessed with owning several memorable dogs, each one more special than the last. Unfortunately, a dog’s lifespan is just a fraction of our own and we once again we are faced with the inevitable.
I am writing this column in tribute to Nana, a dog who shared more than 15 years of her life with us before leaving us just this past weekend. Like dogs should, she had a good life filled with adventures and leisure. Nana will be missed but not forgotten.
Every dog has a story, and Nana’s story begins with an unexpected introduction. It all came about while hunting from a treestand near Gambrill State Park in September 2006. I was bowhunting, and my son, Nathaniel, who was only 7 years old, was seated next to me in the treestand high above the forest floor. I remember he brought a handheld video game and a fiberglass stick bow with a few practice arrows, just in case a squirrel came too close.
It was an evening hunt, and the shadows were growing longer as the sun began to disappear on the horizon. Expecting deer to be moving, I was on the lookout while Nathaniel focused on his electronic game. Downhill from our position I saw a flash of white through the mountain laurel moving in our direction.
What I was hoping to be a deer slowly approaching our position turned out to be a young white dog with floppy black ears, a long feathered tail and a thin red collar. To our surprise, the dog was not just passing through. She was stalking us. She lay down on the forest floor directly under our treestand. She didn’t know where we were but she was intent on waiting for us to appear.
The deer hunt was interrupted by the presence of our unexpected guest. I climbed down from the tree to send the intruder off only to be ecstatically greeted by the over-excited dog. When Nathaniel came down from the tree, the dog really went wild with excitement. He was apparently just what she was looking for.
Now, what do we do? We have a dog that has been separated from her owners and will not leave us. We made our way toward the road and the nearest residence. She instinctively quartered back and forth ahead of us like a good bird dog working the cover. We could not locate her owners after stopping at the nearby houses. It was almost dark, so we took her home.
At that time we had two German shorthairs that were sadly in their final years. They didn’t seem to mind the new dog, and we kenneled her up for the night. Surprisingly, she never made a sound that night as she slept in our basement. It was as if she knew she was home.
The next day we drove her to the Frederick County Humane Society. They informed us that we could leave her at the facility or care for her at home until the owner claimed her. They also said that if the owner doesn’t show after 30 days, the dog would be ours. At that time, I had no intention of keeping her. My son and wife had other ideas.
Nathaniel started calling her Nana, after the dog from the animated version of Peter Pan. It doesn’t take 30 days for a young boy to bond with a new dog. He was counting the days. We drove several times along Gambrill Park Road looking for posted missing dog signs and found none. We returned after 30 days to the dog shelter to make the ownership official. Nathaniel could not have been happier.
More than a canine companion
From the beginning, Nana proved to be the most low-maintenance dog we have owned. She loved to travel and would quickly jump into any open car door. She had the uncanny ability to walk along the railing of our deck like a cat and could climb the rungs of a ladder to join Nathaniel on the deck of his backyard playset. She was a bit of an escape artist and managed to disappear from our fenced yard a time or two.
Nana loved the outdoors and preferred to sleep outside in a crate on our deck, even in very cold temperatures. She had easy access into our basement through her doggy door whenever she desired to come inside, but her sentinel position overlooking our backyard on top of the picnic table on our deck was her favorite location.
Nana’s only shortcoming was her overly sensitive character, yet this also made her exceptionally good-natured and great with people. It didn’t take long before we discovered that Nana was a people-dog more than a bird-dog. Hypersensitive dogs do not like loud noises like fireworks and gunfire. Unfortunately, a gun-shy dog is really difficult to cure.
We never truly determined her breed as she appeared to be partly English Setter with more of the personality of a cocker spaniel. Nana may have never lived up to my hopes as a huntress, but her endearing personality coupled with her ever-present smile made her an incomparable companion. I have to keep telling myself that she was just a dog as it helps me cope with her loss, but in my heart I know she was so much more.
Contact Dan Neuland at firstname.lastname@example.org.