When my son was little, he loved a movie he called The Two Dogs and the One Cat. Walt Disney titled it The Incredible Journey, but it was the story of a retriever, bull terrier and Siamese who are being cared for as a favor by a man whose friends are on vacation. The animals get loose, and against all odds, they traverse the Canadian wilderness for months, facing unspeakable dangers, trying to get home to their owners, a cute little boy and girl who think they’re dead and miss them terribly. Don’t confuse this movie with a later iteration, though, where the animals traverse the wilderness of L.A. In this version they talk, one of them in the voice of Michael J. Fox. No, The Two Dogs and the One Cat was old fashioned and narrated by good old Disney voiceover artist, Rex Allen. If you haven’t seen it, you should, or at least your grandchildren should.
A couple of weeks ago, our dear friends, Beth and Brett, were watching our dog, Stella, for us while we were at a wedding in Pennsylvania. They took her up to their house, which is a couple of miles away on the other side of a big hill that separates our suburb from downtown Portland. They live in the city, but it’s wooded and a favorite area for walkers and joggers and bikers. It’s also a popular driving route into downtown, so there is definitely traffic going through there. Our friends’ yard is fenced with a gate. These guys are dog people, and after losing their beloved Gus a year or so ago, they’re really nice about taking care of their friends’ dogs. You probably know where I’m going with this, but bear with me a minute while I tell you a little about Stella.
Not quite seven years ago, we saw an ad in the paper for a puppy. The litter was supposedly half schnauzer and half poodle. We figured that would be a good mix, so we drove 30 miles or so out in the country to see the dogs. We were appalled to find a couple of dilapidated mobile homes in a sort of compound peppered with garbage and rusty pick-up trucks. Very seedy and, if I’m honest, sinister; the kind of place you’d expect to find a meth lab. On the deck of one of the trailers were two makeshift pens full of puppies. It looked like two separate litters, at least a dozen little dogs. It was the dead of winter, and they lived outside. One of our sons was with us, and he immediately pointed at a little black-and-white pup pawing the side of the pen and said, “That one.” We pounded on the door and apparently woke the the old lady inside, who we had told we were coming. We paid her too much money and took our dog. As we were leaving, we passed an old man reeking of alcohol. It was a very sad place. We got in the car and left. The whole transaction had taken about 15 minutes.
The dog smelled really bad. I sat with her in the back seat as she shivered and cried. When we got home, we bathed her immediately, set her on a heating pad on my lap, and from that moment on, little Stella was ours. It was obvious her start was not good, and many times I’ve thought about those other puppies and feel guilty that I did not report those people to the authorities. Anyway, it took Stella a good while to feel comfortable with us and to get house trained. The vet said she was about three months old, had giardia and worms, and her fur was matted. Our terrier, Bertie, wasn’t exactly welcoming to her either, so Stella learned to cope by being submissive. At the drop of a hat, she’d roll over onto her back. She stayed close by us, and she still does. We don’t need a fence, really, because she sticks around. She weighs about 13 pounds, and since we live in an area where there are coyotes, we rarely let her out of our sight. Every day we walk her in the hills around our house. She’s well fed, well exercised and well loved. Now that Bertie is gone, she lives like a queen, sleeping on a fuzzy blanket every night at the foot of our bed. We’re crazy about our shy little rescue mutt, and everybody knows it, including Beth and Brett.
One morning while we were gone on this last trip, Brett let Stella out in the yard to pee. He went into the kitchen for a minute, and when he came out to get her, she was gone. When Beth came driving up from the gym, he asked if she’d seen Stella. Beth told me later her first thought was, Oh my God, Sandy is gonna kill us! In a panic, they both got in their cars and started searching. Some women out walking told Beth they’d seen her scampering up some wooden steps. A jogger told Brett she’d seen a little gray dog sniffing around on one of the streets at the top of the hill. On a hunch, Brett turned down a little lane that snakes through the hills and eventually leads to our house. There are walking trails through there, and he spotted Stella making her way down some steps between houses. He called out to her and tried to get her into the car, but she just darted away, heading down. He drove around and tried to catch her, knowing she was heading onto a busy street. Still she avoided him, and he stopped his car in the middle of that two-lane thoroughfare, making sure nobody hit her as she crossed the street. He finally caught up to her a few minutes later at our front door. It was only when he pretended to unlock it to let her in that he was able to scoop her up. Beth says she knew nothing about all this, having left her phone back at the house. I can only imagine how she felt, driving around and calling out Stella’s name.
When I heard about Stella’s big adventure, my first thought was that it must have taken years off Beth and Brett’s lives. What if Stella had been lost or hit or eaten by a coyote on their watch? They would have felt absolutely horrible. I acknowledged this to Beth, and thanked her profusely for caring for Stella. I wasn’t mad. This could happen to anybody, and we well know it. But Beth also told me something else. She said she was actually impressed. This timid little dog who lives a sheltered, cushy life in suburban Portland had the the nose and the brain and the courage to find her way back home. It wasn’t through the wilderness of Canada or the traffic of Los Angeles, I know, but we’re all looking at Stella with a little more respect these days. She has some serious street cred.