Saturday, May 17, 2008

Holly the Hero

I never thought I’d fall in love with a dog. But I did – I fell in love with Holly and her lovely, gentle dog spirit. I never thought I’d give her to someone else. But I did. And I never thought she’d save someone’s life. But she did.

I realized early on as I planned this trip, that traveling with a rambunctious, high-energy (and shedding) Golden Retriever in a small campervan just wouldn’t work. So I agonized about what to do. I called Shannon, Holly’s breeder, who had become a friend as well as dispenser of needed advice. I thought maybe I could find someone who would “dog share” with me. However, Shannon pointed out what I already knew somewhere deep down – that Holly would be better off if I just found another home for her – it would be too disruptive to have her attach to someone new and then be uprooted again. I said I would think about that.

A few months later, after much soul searching, I called Shannon back and asked her if she would help me find a new home for Holly. And a few days later Shannon called to say she had found a lovely couple in Edmonton. I sent off pictures of Holly - and Chris and Donna contacted me a few days later.

They arrived at my place on Saturday afternoon in January to meet Holly. I had warned them that they would be “checked out” by all of Holly’s family: my daughter Leslie and her husband Todd and my four grandchildren, Sarah, Emma, Kate and Wanyi and their dog (and Holly’s best friend) Charlie.

Holly was her usual sweet self, unruffled by the confusion swirling around her as we looked at the pictures of Chris and Donna’s departed Golden Retriever, Abby, and vistas around their home where Holly would play.

We immediately liked Chris and Donna – and they immediately liked Holly. They next day I took Holly for her morning walk, packed up her bed, her food and her favourite toys and she left for her new life in Edmonton.

I cried for days after she left. Chris and Donna would phone with daily reports only to be greeted by sobbing and tears at the other end of the phone. I finally had to phone and leave a voice mail message saying that I knew this would be hard – I just didn’t know how hard – but that I would make it through. And, no, I wouldn’t come and take Holly back.

As the weeks passed the calls became fewer although pictures would arrive in letters that Holly would write. We have, what Leanna (my Toronto daughter) calls, an open adoption. I like that concept.

One day Donna called with this amazing story.

On a lovely sunny day in mid-March, Donna set off for her regular Thursday afternoon walk with a group of her friends and their dogs. This Thursday afternoon they walked along the bank of the North Saskatchewan river - a quick moving river that, over the millennia, has carved a deep channel through the Canadian prairie.

Donna had two dogs with her that day, Holly and Jaeger a large Rottweiler cross who belonged to their daughter. As the women walked and talked, Donna noticed that Jaeger had spotted a gaggle geese and a flock of ducks that were sitting on the ice beside the newly opened channel in the middle of the river. Donna tried to distract the dogs and she shooed them along ahead of her. But Jaeger was not to be deterred – he resisted Donna’s attempts to move him along and he bolted down the steep bank and out on the ice to catch his prey. The rotted ice gave way - Jaeger was in the water.

As Donna watched, Jaeger frantically began clawing at the ice in a vain attempt to get out of the icy river and back to dry land. As she looked at the panic in his eyes she knew she couldn’t leave him there to die.

Her friends cautioned, “Don’t even think about it, Donna. We’ll call the fire department.” But just a year ago, Donna’s son lost his Labrador retriever in a similar accident and Donna knew that her family couldn’t bear another loss so soon. So she gave Holly a “stay” command and headed down the river bank determined to save her daughter’s dog.

Donna set out gingerly across the ice and then the unthinkable happened: just as she reached Jaeger the ice gave way beneath her and she joined Jaeger in the icy water. Donna managed to boost Jaeger up on the ice. Then, for the first time she realized that she was now the one in danger. She could feel the strong current trying to pull her under the ice. She realized that the shock of being immersed in ice water was sapping her strength. She realized that she couldn't get out….

Holly had been watching from the river bank and saw her new “pack leader” go through the ice and she, too, bolted down the river bank. Holly walked carefully to where Donna was clinging to the ice. She stopped short of the open water and stuck her head out to where Donna could reach her. Donna grabbed her collar and Holly began backing up, her hind legs digging furiously into the surface of the ice. Back and back she went, inching her way along the ice. Finally Donna was free.

Donna’s friends sprung into action. They grabbed blankets and jackets. They stripped the wet clothes from Donna’s body, wrapped her in the blankets and jackets, got her into a car and drove her home to a warm bath.

The next morning Donna called me to tell me that Holly had saved her life. The story moved me to tears, this time tears of joy and relief and peace. And I knew - somewhere in my bones - Holly was where she was meant to be.
Holly and Donna


Dog said...

Your story of Holly is truly heartwarming!

I think you should send it to Readers Digest.

A wonderful story like it deserves publication.

Dog said...

Your story of Holly is truly heartwarming!

I think you should send it to Readers Digest.

A wonderful story like it deserves publication.