I'll never forget that cold, snowy day in 1991. Our frightened new puppy was hiding under the driver's seat in our clunky old Ford. Nellie, named for her nervous Nellie nature on this day and in the subsequent weeks, would know a life full of love and fun, but at this point we were terrifying and she needed to get away. Sitting in the backseat, I tried to reason with her, but no dice. I reached under the seat to pet her, but all I felt was the painful crunch of her hypodermic needle teeth gnashing into my hand. How could such a cute face conceal a mouth full of deadly weapons?
We eventually got through that first day, and as the weeks passed, we fell in love with our new pup. She fell in love with us too. However, all of these mushy feelings didn't prevent her from making a run for it every chance she had. A theme we will keep revisiting.
As a fan of the Detroit Lions in 1991, my absolute favorite player in the NFL was Barry Sanders. One day, as Nellie escaped out the front door, I quickly realized how defenders must've felt trying to tackle Barry. Nellie had his moves and then some. Just when you thought you had her, she would put an ankle breaking spin move on you and be gone before you knew it. She clearly loved being chased and eluding just about every member of my family. When she had enough, she always gave in and let us put the leash back on her.
As I got older, I became the primary Nellie walker in the family. I took her on my paper route and to her favorite destination, my grandparent's house. The moment you uttered the words "Grandma" or "Grandpa," Nellie went ballistic. She would start barking and wagging her tail at a breakneck pace. I think we took that two-mile round trip walk almost every day of my high school career. She got treats and I got ice cream. It was a win-win situation.
Eventually, I left home for college, leaving my sister, Angela and my mom at home. Nellie had slowed down with age, and by 2003 was a calm senior dog enjoying her golden years.
We come from a small town where nobody feels overly compelled to lock their doors while they are gone for the day. This was certainly the case at our house. On one particularly warm summer day as my mom and sister were at work, they the left the front door open. All that separated Nellie from freedom was an old rickety screen door that didn't completely latch unless it was slammed shut. It was not latched. One little nudge of her snout and she could be free. We were never sure why, perhaps boredom or feelings of nostalgia for the days when she used to have half the neighborhood chasing after her, but on this day, Nellie decided to make a break for it.
When Angela got home from work, it took her a bit to realize that Nellie was nowhere to be found. She looked over and under furniture, the basement, the bathroom. No Nellie. There didn't appear to be a break in. No sign of a struggle. Where could she be? Worried, she called my grandmother to see if she could join the search party. Grandma, who loved Nellie like her own dog, agreed to help.
As she drove to my grandmother's house, it occurred to Angela that Nellie could've slipped out the screen door. She surveyed every street along the way, but there was no sign of an arthritic beagle/miniature collie mix.
Soon, Angela pulled in the driveway and ran in the house to grab my grandma. With little patience and a growing sense of dread, she waited for my grandmother to get ready. As they bolted out the door, who were they greeted by? Nellie! Her tongue was hanging lazily to the side of her mouth, but other than that she seemed no worse for wear. As my grandma rushed in the house for some water, Angela hugged Nellie in disbelief. Had she really made the mile long trek all by herself?
My sister had phoned to let me know Nellie was gone. When she called back a short time later, I feared the worst. I may have been gone from home, but I still loved that dog. When she told me that Nellie had seemingly walked to my grandma's house all by herself, I was shocked. Angela had recounted her drive and that she hadn't spotted Nellie along the way. It then dawned on me that Nellie must've taken the "back way" there. The way we used to walk all those years ago. We surmised that she must've gotten out of the house, and with no way back in, decided to visit grandma. It was incredible and illustrated how intelligent dogs are. Whether she used memory, scent or sight, she made it through intersections and turns all the way to her destination.
Though Nellie has been gone for many years now, my family and I talk about her big adventure all the time. She was a great dog and I'll always be glad that those walks to my grandparent's house stayed with her throughout her life. They have stayed with me too :)