On a late November night the man stepped outside of his ranch house to get some fresh air.  He looked up at the black velvet night salted with bright-white stars.  The air was chilly and as he pulled on his jacket he heard Sally's soft shuffling steps.

He turned and regarded the elderly Australian Shepherd, his companion and good friend for 13 years.  They walked out over the gravel drive and onto the narrow lane that fronted his property. Moonlight frosted the fields and cast shadows of the man and dog as they walked in companionable silence.  On the tail of a winter breeze, the sound of sirens, faint and urgent, wailed briefly.

Christmas was just around the corner.  In years past, he would have been planning what gifts to give whom, and deciding how many guests, family and friends, he and his wife would have over Christmas Eve. But, his wife had passed a decade ago.  Friends were few and most had made other plans this year.  He sighed.  His joy came from the giving of gifts - that was his gift to himself, and he would miss that this Christmas.

Morning came crisp and clear.  He rolled over and gazed out the window. Through the condensation on the glass he watched as a blurry shape moved erratically in the vineyard.  Curious, he got up, dressed and headed for the door. As he neared, a scratching sound came from the other side.  He slowly opened the door.

There, on the porch sat a small dog of mixed breed – short legs, long body.  She stood on her hind legs, furry forelegs pulling at the air.  Her ears hung down, hound-like.  She was adorable. He bent down and reached out a hand.  She dropped to all fours and gently licked his outstretched palm.  By the indentation in the fur of her neck he knew that she had recently worn a collar.

He gestured for her to come inside.  She wagged her tail, panted a smile and turned her attention to the open field. There in the mist was another animal.  She wagged her tail as a dog stepped out of the low-blanketing fog.  Tentatively, the small young dog approached.  The visitor at his feet barked a happy "It's safe!" greeting to her companion.

This dog, too, had previously worn a collar.  Both dogs' fur seemed covered in sooty dirt and he decided he would give them a bath after giving them food and water.

They quickly adapted to their surroundings.  Sally welcomed the two dogs and seemed delighted to have them follow her and her human wherever they went.  That night they all clambered on the bed, settled into the comforter and slept as one.

 

Two days later a group of people came to the house. The man answered the door and couldn't help noticing that on their faces were expressions of weariness, and of hope.  They explained that they had been scouring the area and asked if he had seen two small dogs who were new to the area.  The man nodded and bade them wait. He returned with the two dogs.

One of the men in the group smiled, tears welling in his eyes.

"You found them!"

The man replied, "No, they found me."

The younger man, his cheeks now wet added, "Their names are Roxanne and Libby.  They are my friend's dogs."  The young man tried to say something else, but emotion overwhelmed him. He gathered the dogs, one in each arm and nodded - a gesture of gratitude. The older man nodded back.

That night on the local TV news there was a story about the community losing a popular and respected veterinarian.  He was involved in a fiery single car crash, and pronounced dead at the scene. It was later learned that his two dogs were with him at the time of the accident.  It was believed that his dogs had died with him, but family friends canvassed the fields anyway.  The dogs were found with a homeowner who had taken them in.  The family didn't know the name of the man who took the dogs in, but wanted to thank him ...

The son shared this with the news reporters:  "This is invaluable to our whole family because we know they were with my dad. I don't know how they survived, but here they are.  They slept with my dad at night.  They followed him around everywhere.  It's like that's a part of him that's still alive ..."

Later, while Sally nestled into the comforter, the man closed his eyes, recalling the news story.  "How had they survived?" he wondered.

Drifting off to sleep he did not see the shimmering form appear in his room. "They survived because I was there.  I lifted them from the inferno and with a whisper, I directed them to find you."

The angel moved closer, "Your act of kindness was your gift to that family, and His gift to you!"

Sally thumped her tail and panted a smile and, then she, too, fell asleep.

  -- Kathy Pippig Harris  <paavarr at yahoo.com>

Kathy's story is based largely on fact and is dedicated to Dr. Robert W. Gfeller, DVM, who died November 25, 2007, in a car accident in Madera County, California. 

Dogs Come when Called

"Dogs come when called. Cats take a message and get back to you."

"Of course, every cat is really the most beautiful woman in the room."

Edward Verrall Luca (essayist)

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