Sergeant Preston of the Yukon to the Rescue

My mastiff lived far longer than his breed is supposed to, but my bull mastiff out lasted him by even yet a few more years. To keep the bullmastiff company, I betook myself to the pound, and asked for the biggest, oldest, black dog they had.

People tend not to adopt big dogs, old dogs, or black dogs, and the selection was daunting. The long term inmates included a lot of grinning Rotties, a few shepherd-cross looking beasties, and one fellow who looked kinda like a Lab-Rottie cross. Amid all the “Pick me!” and “Hey lady, over here!” commotion, that one dog lay quietly watching me was I went from cage to cage.

Sarge and Teapot

The quiet dog had dignity, and this is a virtue by my lights. I read his card—he knew some commands, didn’t bark much, and answered to the name of “Sarge.” What’s not to like?

“You,” I said. “You’re coming with me.”

Sarge and Boo Boo got along well enough, though it wasn’t long before Boo Boo followed Fuzzy up to the Cloud Pasture. This left me with a dog, when I’m not a dog person.

If I leave Sarge home in the morning, his expression is sad, a touch reproachful, and resigned. Despite how deeply I disappoint him, when I arrive home hours later, he’s ecstatic to see me. (Boyfriends, husbands, children, take note.)

While it’s nice to come home to a cheerful reception, it’s also nice to have company at the office so Sarge has become an officio member of the bar. I sit at my desk doing lawyer stuff, talking on the phone, reading my files, and yet a little bit of me is also aware that Sarge is peacefully napping a few feet away.

Of course, a dog must have regular outings. When we’re at the office, I will take him boulevardiering at mid-day, even if it’s a court day. Ours is a quaint, old-fashioned section of town. While the block is defined by streets on all four sides, alleys criss-cross behind buildings, and many carriage houses and stables line those alleys.

Sarge inspects every vacant lot on our block, sniffs every little sprig of lambs quarters growing around every telephone pole or lamp post. When we walk past the soup kitchen next door, he must make six new friends among the people waiting in line for their lunch. Without fail, if somebody sees this black mutt on end of my horse lead rope (a nice, lavender colored one), they start smiling.

We also sniff our way past the old folks’ assisted living apartments, and on the benches outside, Sarge finds more friends. He’s an equal opportunity smile-generator, happy to kiss strange old men, delighted with the attentions of the smokers we find on various stoops. Doesn’t matter who you are, if you can pat a dog, Sarge is your buddy.

He asks very little of me, this dog—some puppy chow, the occasional visit to the vet so we comply with the county’s laws about vaccines and licenses. Mostly, Sarge wants to know where I am, and to be with me.

I am not a dog person, but I am a Sarge person. He asks little, gives much, never complains, and sets a good example for me in terms of his unfailing good cheer, and his nonjudgmental view of everybody he meets. If I only say “I love you,” once in the course of my day, I could do far, far worse than to say it to this dark, handsome fellow who has become my domestic companion.

What about you? Has your path ever crossed that of a good example on four legs? To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of Richard Armitage reading the Georgette Heyer classic, “A Marriage of Convenience.”

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23 comments on “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon to the Rescue

  1. My gelding Amigo was the four-legged person of the valley we lived in. He’d lope to the fence as the kids walked to & from school, in no time they’d often stop to yank a clump of tall grass to offer him. Carrots would appear from lunch pails or pockets. He’d clown around chasing chickens out of his pen, play tag in the paddock with me, cavort with his feed bucket, blow bubbles in the summer water tank. Often nicker hello to all and sundry walking or jogging by, and receive a cheery “Hi Meegs,” in return. New folks would ask when I was going to break my friendly colt to saddle, only to learn he was twenty-two and mostly retired to dandelion patrol. Our names were “Amigo’s people” normal on a show circuit, unique in our valley.

    I bought him with babysitting money to rescue him from starving, ignoring a vet recommended euthanization. A year later that vet didn’t recognize the bright eyed, sleek coated and sturdy muscled horse due for shots.

    Amigo never realized he was a gelding, checkering each spring with inventive escapes to go walkabout courting the valley mares with fence flirtations and neck nuzzles. Those neighbor’s never minded since their mares settled on the first breed after his visits. Eventually, he’d be coaxed home by his first love – a bit of sweet mix in his bucket or simply follow a neighbor kid sharing their tale of woe to him & leading him by his forelock.

    Yet, saddle up and enter the show grounds and a fast, feisty Amigo requiring an experienced rider came to the fore. It was time to run, spin, bend, and maybe chase a few steers. He had a particular strut for ribbon flaunting. A sip of fizzy limeade at the end of a run became a mandatory reward lest I want to crow hop to the next event gate.

    His wise eyes and sturdy shoulder got me through my tempestuous teens, college, marriage, divorce, 7 major surgeries, and more. When old age eventually claimed him the paddock fence was piled for a week with yellow mums to mimic his beloved dandelions.

  2. I’m not a dog person, either. My mom adopted a corgi from a lady who had to move into a nursing home. Maggie adopted my mon right back. She was the sweetest dog. If we had visitors and someone sat in my mom’s chair, Maggie stood at their feet until they moved. It was hilarious.

    • One of my friends had a big old marmalade kitty who always positioned himself between her and the door. If she was in bed, the cat was between her and any potential intruders. He’s much missed.

  3. We were dog people. Then, when our English collie died, and the children came, we were not dog people. Eleven years ago, after 20 years of no dogs, a very small, very loving black puppy stole our hearts. We are his ‘pack’. Now he frames our days, expecting long morning walks and shorter evening strolls. No deer, possum, squirrels, crows, (or cats, unfortunately) are allowed to venture into our yard. He is ever vigilant. He prefers to have us gather together in the face of a thunderstorm, and will try and herd stragglers into the ‘safe’ space of his choosing. He accepts our going out, but waits impatiently for everyone to be home together again, greeting the returning traveler with joy and delight. He is, I am afraid, rather judgmental and opinionated, but if you are a friend, you are his friend forever.

    • My 150 pound bullmastiff and my 170 pound mastiff used to pretend indifference to each other. If they heard thunder or rifle shots, they were glued to each other like styrofoam craft balls under my kitchen table.

  4. I’ve had a lot of 4 legged children and 2 2 legged children. Only one fits your discription, Dustbunny. A ragdoll kitten mix a friend found bred in the city. I was in bed reading when my daughter brought him home to me. A little fluff ball of fur she dropped on me hoping I would fall in love. The flea bitten little beggar immediately peed on me and MY prize quilt given to me by my husband for some gift occasion. (I always forget which occasion because he always hits each. One of his friends asked him once when he was tryting to earn extra money for my pearls Why in the world would he marry a woman with a birthday in January, marrying her in January a year later. Couldn’t the man remember Christmas and Valentine’s Days date.) I promptly screached it’s Peed on me, flung back the covers and headed to the bath. Dustbunny didn’t mind much his flea removal in the bathroom sink and the fluff just got fluffy. I was in love. The whole Family was in love. This tiny cat grew and grew. He became a huge pointed longhaired ragdoll ferile cat. Not a breader cat. He didn’t have a bone in his body. When my 9 year old son lifted him he stretched bonelessly as tall as that child without complaint as he posed by the christmas tree and present. Jimmy, my husband was his favorite people. Jimmy is all the pets favorite people, giving them anything they want and sitting with them loved on his lap or chest for hours. Turkey was his favorite food. He’d sit in front of the range while it roasted, padding quietly by Jimmy as he carried in fron the grocery store. The Purrfect pet. Litter box, no accidents if you left the window open for him he would do his business outside and sun himself on the sidewalk or porch. Completely happy. As I mentioned Dustybunny grew into a big cat. I couldn’t understand why every large male cat in the neighborhood would pick on him, Dustybunny wouldn’t fight back. We didn’t know this was a trait. We protected him as best we could but I was annoyed with his gentleness. I didn’t say I was smart. A large cat chased him back in the house one night and he had a large scrath left on his neck. We age with our family. Dustybunny grew. My son gave him a bath once outside Dustybunny caught a cold. We took care of him. This is the only cat I’ve ever wiped nose. Vet finally diagnosed him with FLV, probably from the cat scratch. We gave him the drugs provided and wiped his nose. He recovered but would have those colds continually. Remember he was a perfect cat, as I watched him walk around the corner one day I noticed something wrong he was leaning against the wall for balance not complaining at all. I yelled at Jimmy that something was wrong and on a run to vet was told he had a stroke. Not the best news to say the least. We brought him back home and he immediately headed for his litterbox leaning on the wall as he padded softly. The vet said if we could keep him eatting he might make it. Deli Turkey was the key, Jimmy said the deli wondered why we were buying expensive deli turkey for a cat. Yes, we may have fed him better than the rest of us on some days. Dustybunny. He continued to sun and stretch out the length of the love seat for too short of time. Maybe 2 more years, I don’t want to remember the time it was too little. It came a time to put him down. Jimmy and I made the choice. We didn’t like it. We were mad at one another when it was done. Dustybunny was gone. Another Dustbunny would be just what would make us better. We searched out the same type of cat, a breeder expensive one as no strays were provided. Two new kittens, each with their special talents of love and one stray blue kitten saved from a storm. I post pic on FB so you see those 3, but none of them is Dustybunny. We couldn’t find a replacement for him. I miss him. You asked for a post for a loved 4 legged member of the family and might not expected a booklength one, it’s from the heart. And the heart is all that matters.

  5. I read every word. I came across a stray marmalade kitty once upon a time who’d had his face half ripped off in some altercation. His fur was matted with burrs, and he was ugly from day one. We named him Fox because he was as big as one, and the right color.

    I picked him up, and in all his traumatized glory, he purred. We’d been Dustbunnied and didn’t know it at the time.

  6. My Dixie!! Dixie was going to come stay with me for a few months until my friends got moved out of their pet-unfriendly apartment and into a house. Eight years later her stinky butt (my groomer/mom has been out of town this week) is kicked back on my sofa next to me.
    I didn’t intend to steal her, but my friends have two children who were very small at the time and Dixie hated them (she snapped at them when they got in her space). Of course Dixie isn’t much on any small child.
    The Dixinator is getting old. At nearly 16 years old she’s hard of hearing and, after a bout with encephalitis this summer, walking on the hardwood floors is like walking on an ice rink. But she runs across the yard like she’s still a puppy.
    She’s been to work with me a few times. But she doesn’t like crowds so we haven’t done that in a while. The last time she went to work with me we sat on the couch during a meeting with the assistant principal. The principal was amazed by how quiet and still Dixie was the entire time. Dixie was right where she likes to be: on the couch and next to me.
    After one of our many trips to the vet between June and September this year, Dix went to the gym with me. She laid down in the office so she could see out the door and never moved. People commented on the fact that she wasn’t bothered by the noise (with the stereo at full blast and 300 pound barbells hitting the floor a CrossFit box can get pretty loud); sometimes it’s a blessing to lose your hearing. She never barked and she just watched everyone go by. At home she loves her ottoman in front of the window so she can see everyone go by.
    She’s getting near her end and I don’t know what I’ll do when she’s gone. Right now I just enjoy having her with me.

    • I’m pleased to know, as busy and independent as you are, that somebody’s quietly by your side, and happy to be there. The animals help us deal with grief by having lives shorter than ours. A dubious kind of help, that, but we appreciate them more for knowing they’re only on loan.

  7. I am not a dog person myself, however my husband adored them. We had a variety of dogs for 30 years. A couple succumbed to old age, a couple through illness, one because of very fast moving van. The dogs deaths were all devastating and I couldn’t face another dog for several years.
    We were generally considered to be the local pet rescue for the neighborhood because of David He would take them in and usually find a good home for them. So when a neighbor brought a half grown dog to our house after several years of dog deprivation, David gave me the big, brown sad eyes look and the pup did the same; I couldn’t refuse. Oh, I tried to discourage ownership, “He has Chow in him!!!” and “He’s part Pit Bull!!!”. Eventually I was worn down because our children joined in and they also have those big, brown eyes.
    I was so very, very happy I did say yes because after a couple of years David became disabled and Marley was his boon companion. After several years, David became very ill in April of this year, endured surgery and died of complications in May.
    Marley, of course, was present during part of the funeral services. He worshiped David and has been heartbroken ever since. He always loved me but now I’m the center of his universe. It was disconcerting for a while but I too, have begun to adore him. I talk while he listens, if I feel sad and cry, he lays his head in my lap and we mourn together. He’s a very special dog and I’m so glad I said yes.

    • And you named him Marley. Cripes, this is turning into a three hankie blog, but folks, every word is special. Robin, thanks so much for including Marley’s story here. Dave would be glad to know you have each other, still.

  8. I have had many 4-legged furry friends allow me to care for them until they cross the rainbow bridge… My Snoopy, a stray cat diagnosed as a kitten with feline leukemia, was supposed to be a playmate for my active calico as her best friend had slowed down as they aged. Sadly, he could not be friends with his new siblings & the substitute vet-mine had a family emergency when Snoopy had his visit to ensure his shots & tests would be fine-said to put him down right away… I ran out with him called my kennel girl for help & talked with a few people before my vet called me & we both had the same thought-as long as he stayed healthy & never had kitty friends he could live a few years… Snoopy LOVED car rides, going to the vet, PetSmart, meeting people, and showing people he cared. His attitude convinced a vet tech where we lived to adopt an older cat from a shelter. He made friends with an older special needs man in the waiting room walking up & introducing himself. When we moved again he always surprised the new vet walking in by himself on his leash & harness while I carried his crate. He would jump up on the exam table tail up in the air purr as loud as he could. He always responded to his name too. He had a knack for knowing who needed his touch… He went up to a couple in the waiting room in the vet’s office almost climbing in the lady’s lap & she petted him as did her husband-he wore a leash & harness by the way purring like crazy when he had it on-when we went to the back the vet acted weird because she said they hated cats & when I told her he tore out of my arms when they sat down after being told to wait she smiled… She said my boy had consoled grieving parents whose 10 month old puppy had been hit & just passed away but couldn’t be saved… When I left Snoopy again ran to the lady who sobbed all over him. Her husband thanked me for allowing her to sob all over my cat but I said it was his idea… They left a few minutes later… Sadly, I had to put him down a few months later when the feline leukemia decided to become active… He defied odds living as healthy as he did for 8 years… He will not be my last 4-legged furry friend just a boy who befriended many…

  9. I’ve had some similar advice from vets, but agree with the path you took: If the animal isn’t aggressive and likely to wound anybody else, if they’re happy and healthy, then… onward, and each day is a gift. Words if you in good health, and if you’re not.

  10. As a kid, I just had an aquarium with fish and a couple of tree frogs, that sometimes rewarded my endless fly catching for them with a long croaking. But there is no real tale to tell.

    But now, that we have children, animals got more important again. My dad often takes the girls and goes visiting two neighbor dogs named Arco and Xaver. The thing about it is, that they are both very old but never tired enough not to enjoy the brought meatballs and that this is a big event to go and see them for my children.

    But something that comes to mind on that topic is this: my great aunt was a vet’s wife and she once told me, that she was very disappointed in her patients lords and ladies: They could talk for hours and huge tales about their doggies and kitties and …, but somehow my great aunt never heard anything about their children! And that even though conversations were not only because of the official visit at the vet’s. Quite sad to hear that, that people can be so preoccupied with their pets to forget about their children…

  11. I also have stories about four-legged pals who continue to have special places in my heart. I won’t share a story; however, I do want to thank you Grace and all commenters for quieting my mind and expanding my heart and, truth be told, wetting my eyes today.Just what I needed.

  12. For as long as I can remember there have been animals in my house. From the ubiquitous carnival goldfish to my two litter ate cats that look nothing alike. One being a lynx point Siamese and the other a tortoiseshell. I have learned to love and treasure each and every one of them and they all taught me so much.

    But it is the dogs who have taught me the most.

    I never had a dog growing up. No amount of begging or pleading would bend my father to allow one in the house. It wasn’t until I turned 30 that I was finally living on my own with a stable job and house of my own that I gave in to my longing and got one of my own.

    But he was never mine. You see, instead of getting a pet dog from a shelter or breeder, I wanted my dog to serve a purpose. To have MEANING. I wanted a service dog.

    So many great organizations out there allow (need) people to raise adorable puppies in order to turn them into we’ll trained, well educated dogs to provide aide to those who need it. I joined Guide Dogs of America ( in the hopes that the puppy I would raise would serve as someone’s partner and give them the freedom we take for granted. I jumped into puppy raising whole heartedly. For two years I worked other people’s dogs, went to training classes, took dogs to work, school, outings. You name it, I was there every weekend with a new dog! I even brought one to the RWA convention!

    Then the day came when I got “the call”.

    There was a little black Labrador male who was coming home with me at the end of October. He was part of the “N” litter and I chose the name Nicholas. From the moment he was placed in my arms,I knew he was special in so many ways. It didn’t take me more than a week to find out he was destined for greatness.

    He was so smart and so funny and so…naughty! I swear he would look at me with this evil look on his face and do what I had just taught him not to! At three months old he learned English and I found out how smart he was. From the delinquent he was in puppy class, he turned into the star pupil. He would learn commands in just a few short sessions. And his boundless energy always kept me on my toes. This was one dog who was born to be a working dog. He was happiest when wearing his jacket and going to new places and experiencing new things.

    However, it was not meant to be. At nine months old, he went in for his evaluation. It is the phone call you never want to receive when raising a service dog: your puppy is being dropped from the program. He had too much energy and was too sniffy. But there were options: I could keep him, I could give him to someone on the adoption list or I could have him tested for search and rescue. My answer was immediate. Test him. I kept telling myself “If he doesn’t pass, then I can keep him.”

    Oh, how the selfish part of me wanted him to fail. How I wanted to believe that all the self control and focus I had encouraged him to develop was a figment of my imagination. I waited for an entire week on pins and needles before I found out his fate. Not only did he pass the screening test for SAR, he passed with flying colors. The only one of his 6 litter mates to do so. I again waited another week until his official testing with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (

    He amazed them. They tested 10 dogs. He was the only one they took for further training.

    My little boy was going to be a working dog!

    And a smart one: he passed his search and rescue training in less then six months. He was a full fledged search dog at the age of 17 months. This past January, he was placed with a fire fighter in Albany, New York where he would continue training and be called upon in emergency situations.

    He has fulfilled his purpose. Tuesday night, I got a phone call saying he was deployed to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. While he is not yet FEMA certified and can’t search in the “danger zone” he was able to further his training in a real world situation. It is only a matter of time before he is certified and he can truly save people.

    As much as I wanted a dog of my own, I will never learn as much as I did from a 12 pound bundle of puppy. He taught me patience and what frustration really is. He taught me to educate people on visual impairment. He taught me to love selflessly like he did. And when I wanted to keep him with every fiber in my body and I knew he wouldn’t be happy without a job, he taught me to let him go.

    He was born for a purpose and decided it wasn’t for him. He chose his own path and people will be saved because of him. He will do it honestly because he loves his job. He will do it with tail wagging and wet kisses. I can guarantee it.

    ***Please, if you are considering a pet, look into puppy raising. So many people need help and these dogs do wonderful things for them!

  13. My boon companion of the last almost-eleven years is my Siberian Husky, Bandit. Bandit is calm, quiet, cooperative, and good-natured. I tell people he came out of the womb an old man: no boisterous puppyhood for him, only Zen maturity! (I was reproached by a vet during Bandit’s first year of life for letting him gain so much weight, so quickly. I gaped at the woman and told her, “He’s only 7 months old! He’s SUPPOSED to gain weight!” She glanced at his chart and apologized; he was so calm and relaxed and mannerly that she’d taken him for a 3- or 4-year-old.)

    Bandit is a dog beloved by people who aren’t even dog-people. After all, he doesn’t jump, doesn’t sniff crotches, doesn’t counter-surf or get into the trash. Doesn’t jump up on furniture unless he’s been invited…which so rarely happens that if I DO invite him up on the couch, his expression is both confused and suspicious, and I immediately feel bad for throwing him a curve ball. He’s not much of a bed-buddy these days, preferring the floor, but when he IS in the mood to join me on the mattress, he stands with his chin on the covers and just looks at me, awaiting permission.

    Some Siberians bark, but Bandit is a mostly non-barking Sibe. (For which I am PROFOUNDLY grateful. I despise a barky dog. It’s like an ice-pick in the ear drum!) He does talk, though. Awooo-woo-woo-woooooo! He talks to me. He BACK-TALKS me, complete with foot stomping. (I decided long ago that I didn’t mind the back-talk as long as he ultimately cooperated and did what I wanted him to do. Which he does, every time. He just likes to gripe about it occasionally.) We’ve been together for so long that I can translate every word. My friends are always amused when I tell them what he’s saying…and it’s so obvious that I’ve gotten it right! He is also a sympathetic howler. If I watch a video of another Siberian talking or howling, Bandit will join in. Fortunately for my neighbors — we have always lived in apartments, Bandit and I — he has never mistaken the screaming whine of a siren for a fellow Sibe.

    He’s not much fond of toys. Never was. His favorite — and really the only toy I’ve ever known him to play with — is a tennis ball. I have about 9 of them currently positioned under furniture, out of sight and out of mind. He IS fond of fruits and vegetables! My little vegetarian. My friends laugh and comment that Bandit eats better than I do. It’s true! The thunk of the knife on the cutting board is a Siren’s song for my lovey. Apples, berries, bell pepper, cucumber, kale, oranges, tomatoes, potatoes, frozen green beans, green olives, broccoli. Bandit is a fan of them all. Other dog-people load their pockets with dog cookies. I load mine with chunks of baby carrot. Nom-nom-nom.

    I call him my Million Dollar Doggy. I estimate that I spend about $3,500 a year on him, among vet bills, pet sitters, and food. My vet tells me that Bandit’s an AMAZINGLY fit and healthy dog, all things considered, but he’s not without his issues. He’s epileptic, for one thing. (My family has had 10 dogs during the course of my life, and 6 of them have turned out to be epileptic. Four of those were related — Bandit’s mom had epilepsy and passed it on to her kids — and the other two were not. I joke that God gives me all the epileptic dogs because I know what to do with them. Actually, I’ve often thought that the next time I get a dog, I will purposely seek out an epileptic Siberian Husky. Again, I know what to do with them.) Right now we’re dealing with a lymphatic system gone haywire. We’re not sure why. The only thing we know is that he doesn’t have any internal tumors and his lymph nodes don’t have cancerous cells. But SOMETHING is up, and my lovey is living up to his nickname. Cha-ching! But I don’t care. That’s what overtime is for. I’m just glad he’s eating again.

    In short, Bandit is the perfect dog. Well, perfect for me, anyway. He came into my life at the tail end of an abusive marriage, when I was sunk deep in a suicidal depression. He saved me, helped me grow up, brought me confidence. We go together like bed and books, Kirk and Spock, tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Every night I go to bed and send up a prayer of Thanksgiving: “Dear God, thank you for Bandit. Thank you for letting me be his mom. Thanks for picking him out for me, for trusting me with him. Please whisper in his ear and tell him how much I love him.”

    With apologies to Ben Franklin, he got it way wrong. DOGS — not beer — are proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Mission accomplished.

  14. These have been some of the most lovely posts I’ve read on anybody’s blog, ever. I’m changing the rules, friends: Everybody who posted gets the signed Grace Burrowes book of their choice, either sent to you, or to the library of your choice. If you have them all so far, I can add you to the list for Lady Eve when her book hits the shelves on February 1. Send me some addies, and I’ll get signing: [email protected].

    And many, many thanks, from me and from Sarge, too.

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