The Dog Who Healed a Family: And Other True Animal Stories That Warm the Heart & Touch the Soul

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9780373892303: The Dog Who Healed a Family: And Other True Animal Stories That Warm the Heart & Touch the Soul



In this charming collection of nineteen stories, you can't help but fall in love with the unlucky fawn who is saved by a nursing home, the troublesome rabbit who warms her way into a new family and the good (German) shepherd who comforts the sick. These are stories of hope, humor, triumph, loyalty, compassion, life and even death—but most of all, these are stories of love and the extraordinary animals who make our lives the richer for it.

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About the Author:

Jo Coudert is the author of nine books, including Seven Cats and the Art of Living. A lifelong animal lover, she lives in Califon, New Jersey.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Curled nose to tail, the little dog was drowsing in Nancy Topp's lap as the truck rolled along the interstate. Suddenly Nancy felt her stiffen into alertness. "What's the matter, old girl?" Nancy asked. At seventeen, Snoopy had a bit of a heart condition and some kidney problems, and the family was concerned about her.

Struggling to her feet, the dog stared straight ahead. She was a small dog, with a dachshund body but a beagle head, and she almost seemed to be pointing. Nancy followed the dog's intent gaze, and then she saw it, too. A wisp of smoke was curling out of a crack in the dashboard. "Joe!" she shouted at her husband at the wheel. "Joe, the engine's on fire!"

Within seconds the cab of the ancient truck was seething with smoke. Nancy and Joe and their two children—Jodi, twelve, and Matthew, fifteen—leaped to the shoulder of the road and ran. When they were well clear, they turned and waited for the explosion that would blow everything they owned sky-high. Instead, the engine coughed its way into silence, gave a last convulsive shudder and died.

Joe was the first to speak. "Snoopy," he said to the little brown and white dog, "you may not hear or see so good, but there's nothing wrong with your nose."

"Now if you could just tell us how we're going to get home," Matthew joked. Except it wasn't much of a joke. Here they were, fifteen hundred miles from home, stranded on a highway in Wyoming, with the truck clearly beyond even Joe's gift for repairs. The little dog, peering with cataract-dimmed eyes around the circle of faces, seemed to reflect their anxiety.

The Topps were on the road because five months earlier a nephew had told Joe there was work to be had in the Napa Valley and Joe and Nancy decided to take a gamble on moving out there. Breaking up their home in Fort Wayne, Indiana, they packed up the kids and Snoopy and set out for California. But once there, the warehousing job Joe hoped for did not materialize, Nancy and the kids were sharply homesick and their funds melted away. Now it was January and, the gamble lost, they were on their way back home to Fort Wayne.

The truck had gotten them as far as Rock Springs, Wyoming, but now there was nothing to do but sell it to a junk dealer for $25 and hitch a ride to the bus station. Two pieces of bad news greeted them there. Four tickets to Fort Wayne came to more money than they had, much more, and dogs were not allowed on the bus.

"But we've got to take Snoopy with us," Nancy pleaded with the ticket seller, tears welling in her eyes. It had been a disastrous day, but this was the worst news of all.

Joe drew her away from the window. It was no use getting upset about Snoopy, he told her, until they figured out how to get themselves on the bus. With no choice but to ask for help, they called Travelers Aid, and with kind efficiency the local representative arranged for a motel room for them for the night. There, with their boxes and bags piled in a corner, they put in a call to relatives back home, who promised to get together money for the fare and wire it the next day.

"But what about Snoopy?" Matthew said as soon as his father hung up the phone.

"We can't go without Snoopy," Jodi stated flatly.

Joe picked up the little dog. "Snoopy," he said, tugging her floppy ears in the way she liked, "I think you're going to have to hitchhike."

"Don't tease, Joe," Nancy said curtly.

"I'm not teasing, honey," he assured her, and tucked Snoopy into the crook of his arm. "I'm going to try to find an eastbound truck to take the old girl back for us."

At the local truck stop, Joe sat Snoopy on a stool beside him while he fell into conversation with drivers who stopped to pet her. "Gee, I'd like to help you out," one after another said. "She's awful cute and I wouldn't mind the company, but I'm not going through Fort Wayne this trip." The only driver who might have taken her picked Snoopy up and looked at her closely. "Naw," the man growled, "with an old dog like her, there'd be too many pit stops. I got to make time." Still hopeful, Joe tacked up a sign asking for a ride for Snoopy and giving the motel's phone number.

"Somebody'll call before bus time tomorrow," he predicted to the kids when he and Snoopy got back to the motel.

"But suppose nobody does?" Jodi said.

"Sweetie, we've got to be on that bus. The Travelers Aid can only pay for us to stay here one night."

The next day Joe went off to collect the wired funds while Nancy and the kids sorted through their possessions, trying to decide what could be crammed into the six pieces of luggage they were allowed on the bus and what had to be left behind. Ordinarily Snoopy would have napped while they worked, but now her eyes followed every move Nancy and the children made. If one of them paused to think, even for a minute, Snoopy nosed at the idle hand, asking to be touched, to be held.

"She knows," Jodi said, cradling her. "She knows something awful is going to happen."

The Travelers Aid representative arrived to take the belongings they could not pack, for donation to the local thrift shop. A nice man, he was caught between being sympathetic and being practical when he looked at Snoopy. "Seventeen is really old for a dog, " he said gently. "Maybe you just have to figure she's had a long life and a good one." When nobody spoke, he took a deep breath. "If you want, you can leave her with me and I'll have her put to sleep after you've gone."

The children looked at Nancy but said nothing; they understood there wasn't any choice, and they didn't want to make it harder on their mother by protesting. Nancy bowed her head. She thought of all the walks, all the romps, all the picnics, all the times she'd gone in to kiss the children good-night and Snoopy had lifted her head to be kissed, too.

"Thank you," she told the man. "It's kind of you to offer. But no. No," she repeated firmly. "Snoopy's part of the family, and families don't give up on each other." She reached for the telephone book, looked up kennels in the yellow pages and began dialing. Scrupulously she started each call with the explanation that the family was down on their luck. "But," she begged, "if you'll just keep our little dog until we can find a way to get her to Fort Wayne, I give you my word we'll pay. Please trust me. Please."

A veterinarian with boarding facilities agreed finally to take her, and the Travelers Aid representative drove them to her office. Nancy was the last to say goodbye. She knelt to take Snoopy's frosted muzzle in her hands. "You know we'd never leave you if we could help it," she whispered, "so don't give up. Don't you dare give up. We'll get you back somehow, I promise."

Once back in Fort Wayne, the Topps found a mobile home to rent, one of Joe's brothers gave them his old car, sisters-in-law provided pots and pans and bed linens, the children returned to their old schools and Nancy and Joe found jobs. Bit by bit the family got itself together. But the circle had a painful gap in it. Snoopy was missing. Every day Nancy telephoned a different moving company, a different trucking company, begging for a ride for Snoopy. Every day Jodi and Matthew came through the door asking if she'd had any luck and she had to say no.

By March they'd been back in Fort Wayne six weeks and Nancy was in despair. She dreaded hearing from Wyoming that Snoopy had died out there, never knowing how hard they'd tried to get her back. One day a friend suggested she call the Humane Society. "What good would that do?" Nancy said. "Aren't they only concerned about abandoned animals?" But she had tried everything else, so she telephoned Rod Hale, the director of the Fort Wayne Department of Animal Control, and told him the story.

"I don't know what I can do to help," Rod Hale said when she finished. "But I'll tell you this. I'm sure going to try." A week later, he had exhausted the obvious approaches. Snoopy was too frail to be shipped in the unheated baggage compartment of a plane. A professional animal transporting company wanted $655 to bring her east. Shipping companies refused to be responsible for her. Rod hung up from his latest call and shook his head. "I wish the old-time Pony Express was still in existence," he remarked to his assistant, Skip Cochrane. "They'd have passed the dog along from one driver to another and delivered her back home."

"It'd have been a Puppy Express," Skip joked.

Rod thought for a minute. "By golly, that may be the answer." He got out a map and a list of animal shelters in Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, and picked up the phone. Could he enlist enough volunteers to put together a Puppy Express to transport Snoopy by stages across five states? Would people believe it mattered enough for a seventeen-year-old dog to be reunited with her family that they'd drive a hundred or so miles west to pick her up and another hundred or so miles east to deliver her to the next driver?

In a week he had his answer, and on Sunday, March 11, he called the Topps. "How are you?" he asked Nancy.

"I'd feel a lot better if you had some news for me."

"Then you can begin feeling better right now," Rod told her jubilantly. "The Puppy Express starts tomorrow. Snoopy's coming home!"

Monday morning, in Rock Springs, Dr. Pam McLaughlin checked Snoopy worriedly. The dog had been sneezing the day before. "Look here, old girl," the vet lectured as she took her temperature, "you've kept your courage up until now. This is no time to get sick just when a lot of people are about to go to a lot of trouble to get you back to your family."

Jim Storey, the animal control officer in Rock Springs, had volunteered to be Snoopy's first driver. When he pulled up outside the clinic, Dr. McLaughlin bundled Snoopy in a sweater and carried her to the car. "She's got a cold, Jim," the vet said, "so keep her warm. Medicine and instructions and the special food for her kidney condition are in the shopping bag."

"She's got a long way to go," Jim said. "Is she going to make it?"

"I wish I could be sure of it," the doctor admitted. She put the little dog on the seat beside Jim and held out her hand. Snoopy placed her paw in it. "You're welcome, old girl," the vet said, squeezing it. "It's been a pleasure taking care of you. The best of luck. Get home safely."

Jim and Snoopy drove 108 miles to Rawlings, Wyoming. There they rendezvoused with Cathy English, who had come 118 miles from Casper to meet them. Cathy laughed when she saw Snoopy. "What a funny-looking, serious little creature you are to be traveling in such style," she teased. "Imagine, private chauffeurs across five states." But that evening, when she phoned Rod Hale to report that Snoopy had arrived safely in Casper, she called her "a dear old girl" and admitted that "If she were mine, I'd go to a lot of trouble to get her back, too."

Snoopy went to bed at Cathy's house—a nondescript little brown and white animal very long in the tooth—and woke the next morning a celebrity. Word of the seventeen-year-old dog with a bad cold who was being shuttled across mid-America to rejoin her family had gotten to the news media. After breakfast, dazed by the camera and lights but, as always, polite, Snoopy sat on a desk at the Casper Humane Society and obligingly cocked her head to show off the new leash that was a gift from Cathy. And that night, in Fort Wayne, the Topps were caught between laughter and tears as they saw their old girl peer out at them from the television set.

With the interview behind her, Snoopy set out for North Platte, 350 miles away, in the company of Myrtie Bain, a Humane Society official in Casper who had volunteered for the longest single hop on Snoopy's journey. The two of them stopped overnight in Alliance, and Snoopy, taking a stroll before turning in, got a thorn in her paw. Having come to rely on the kindness of strangers, she held quite still while Myrtie removed it, and then continued to limp until Myrtie accused her of doing it just to get sympathy. Her sneezes, however, were genuine, and Myrtie put her to bed early, covering her with towels to keep off drafts.

In North Platte at noon the next day, more reporters and cameramen awaited them, but as soon as she'd been interviewed, Snoopy was back on the road for a 138-mile trip to Grand Island. Twice more that day she was passed along, arriving in Lincoln, Nebraska, after dark and so tired that she curled up in the first doggie bed she spotted despite the growls of its rightful owner.

In the morning her sneezing was worse and she refused to drink any water. Word of this was sent along with her, and as soon as she arrived in Omaha on the next leg, she was checked over by the Humane Society vet, who found her fever had dropped but she was dehydrated. A messenger was dispatched to the nearest store for Gatorade, to the fascination of reporters, who from then on headlined her as "Snoopy, the Gatorade Dog."

With a gift of a new wicker sleeping basket and a note in the log being kept of her journey—"Happy to be part of the chain reuniting Snoopy with her family"—Nebraska passed the little dog on to Iowa. After a change of car and driver in Des Moines, Snoopy sped on and by nightfall was in Cedar Rapids. Pat Hubbard, in whose home she spent the night, was sufficiently concerned about her to set an alarm and get up three times in the night to force-feed her Gatorade. Snoopy seemed stronger in the morning, and the Puppy Express rolled on.

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