- Best man Jorge Francisco, with bride and groom in background
The blending of the packs
"The best man is getting away!" I yelled as I took pictures of the best man getting away.
George, the best man, decided he'd had enough and left.
Shannon and Anthony were holding hands and exchanging vows when George decided to publicly urinate on the dunes of Emerald Isle. With him was the other groomsman, Dudley, who at that moment was wearing a shirt but no pants.
Lula, the maid of honor, sat trembling during the whole ceremony. And Jeffrey, the third groomsman, laid down and licked his balls.
Dogs are not ceremonious creatures.
Christened Jorge Francisco, George is a little dog with a crooked front paw that turns out at an angle, which makes him look like he's posing for a fashion magazine. He is thought to be part terrier and part Napoleon. He has his own Facebook page.
Dudley is a 70-pound golden retriever mix with long, reddish hair and a penchant for rolling in muddy puddles, drinking large quantities of untreated water and licking fabric.
Lula, a hound mix and the matriarch of the pack, is thought to have an autism spectrum disorder that makes her nervous and socially awkward. Lula stares at walls and sequesters herself to closets.
Jeffrey is a three-legged dog with long, floppish ears and a sleek black coat. He's an amazing runner and easily outpaces the rest of the pack. There is some mystery regarding his missing leg. If you find it, please notify us.
Shannon and Anthony like dogs. When they married earlier this year, it was a Brady Bunch effect. Shannon had Lula and Jeffrey. Anthony had Jorge and Dudley. And with their union, a new pack was formed. Their weeklong wedding celebration was referred to as "the blending of the packs," with friends, family and dogs from both sides living together to honor the union.
If dog is man's best friend, then why not also his best man?
J. Mickey Fong, Durham
Southpaw and the snake
Y'all never mentioned anything about snakes.
Before our move to Durham this summer, we heard all about the fabulous farmers markets, friendly people and trafficless commutes. And while we've found all of these descriptions to be blissfully correct, it was our dog who had to teach us about the snakes.
It was a Saturday evening around dusk and Southpaw, our black lab mix, and I had stepped out to the backyard for a bathroom break. As we approached the lawn, we saw a collection of birds hopping around, seemingly distressed. Southpaw immediately nosed his way over to investigate, and by the time I saw the snake in the middle of the commotion, Southpaw was already reeling back and pawing his muzzle. Not one to be squeamish about our reptilian brethren, my first thought was that this was no big deal, but my mind started racing all the same. I quickly returned Southpaw inside and ventured out again, armed with a camera. Snapping a shot as close as I dared, I went inside to consult with Google.
I did a search for "NC snakes" and eventually came to an image that matched. Gray with dark, jagged, hourglass markings: copperhead. Among the paragraphs of information on the website, a few words jumped out immediately: "venomous," "extremely painful," "immediate medical attention."
Google and I next found the closest emergency vet clinic, and after one panicked roadside phone call for directions (must every road around here have Chapel Hill in the name?!), Southpaw and I arrived. As he got out of the car, I saw that during the 10-minute ride his snout had swollen to twice its normal size and he was drooling shoelaces. Up until that point, I had room in my consciousness to believe I was overacting. He wasn't really bitten. It wasn't actually a copperhead. But at that moment, I had room for only one thought: Please don't let him die.
As I write this, Southpaw lies snoring in the corner of our family room, his paws twitching as he chases something in his dream. Thanks to the excellent care we received at Triangle Veterinary Emergency Clinic, he's back to 100 percent less than a week after the incident. Although he had a rough first night after the bite, he has since milked the patient status for all it's worth, taking naps on the usually forbidden master bed and scarfing down the extra medication-hiding treats.
So it was our beloved dog who informed us about the snakes in our new North Carolina home, and this is what I've learned since: Copperheads are found all over the state and are actually common around Chapel Hill. While they are more aggressive than other poisonous snakes and are the country's leading culprit of bites, the bites are rarely fatal for large dogs or humans. However, they're very painful and can cause permanent tissue damage, so immediate medical care should be sought for two- and four-legged creatures alike. May our experience help make others more aware than we were!
Ren Englum, Durham
Bringing Violet home
I first met Violet—then Shiloh—at the Asheville Humane Society, where I volunteered as a cat socializer. We had recently moved to Asheville from Madison, Wis., where I'd lived for the past 20 years. I had no idea how difficult starting over in a new place would be. Life was suddenly full of uncertainties. Loneliness, anxiety and homesickness overshadowed my first year in Asheville. On top of that, my husband and I moved without having jobs first, so I had a lot of time on my hands to be lonely, anxious and homesick.
I became a volunteer at AHS when I realized I needed to use one thing I was certain of—a love for animals—and put my energy to good use. It was one of the best things I could have done. I felt an affinity with the displaced and homeless creatures I visited at the shelter; being with them was a lifeline for me as much as it probably was for them.
It was inevitable that one of my socializees was going to come home with me. We were ready for a second cat, and I figured I'd know when the time was right. It happened when I took Shiloh, a tuxedo kitten, out of her cage. Shiloh would not have made it into a kitten calendar. She had a triangular head that was way out of proportion to her small body, chewed-off whiskers, a long skinny squirrel-tail, wiry fur and huge eyes, which gave her the appearance of a cross between an anime character and the Communion alien.
When I put her in my lap, though, I knew. She put both front paws on my chest, stood up on her hind legs to get close to my face, looked me straight in the eyes and, purring, head-butted me like a little goat. The one you've been looking for? Here I am. We adopted Shiloh and renamed her Violet because her face looks like the flower—inquisitive, open and bright.
I could go into great detail describing all the cute things Violet does, and the ways she touches our lives, but chances are, most of that stuff is charming and special mostly just to me. But these things are essentially Violet: When I am home, she is with me everywhere I am. Her language is a bright stream of chirps and trills that always makes me smile. She has let me cry on her fur. She hugs my husband when he comes home from work—no kidding: arms around his neck, face nuzzled into his neck like a person (he's got a tough job and often comes home drained).
I'm a cynical person so I don't speak of wonder and amazement lightly, but I am in constant awe of the pure and complete love Violet gives us. There are choices you make in life that are so deeply right that your world shifts afterward, into a better place, toward a better direction it would not have gone before. For me, that happened when we brought Violet home.
Christa Evans, Durham
Dogs don't have emotions?
Some people believe dogs are "just animals," and any emotions we attribute to them are simply our projections. I think I could prove them wrong with just one lively round of hide-and-seek between me and my Aussie mix, Ojito.
The game starts with me putting her on a down-stay in the kitchen where she can't see into the rest of the house. Her eyes immediately begin to sparkle, her eyebrows arch upward and her body trembles ever so slightly. Watching me disappear around the corner, she's the embodiment of pure, eager anticipation.
I tiptoe into the back bedroom and hide under the bed; or slide into the bathtub and pull the shower curtain closed; or maybe I slip behind floor-length drapes in the den, carefully wrapping them around me to hide the tips of my shoes. After getting myself hidden, I softly whistle the "release" whistle. Instantly, I hear her explode into action—racing through the house, then freezing perfectly still in each room to detect whether or not I'm nearby.
When she freezes like that, I'm never sure if she's listening, looking or sniffing for me, but she's definitely scanning and evaluating. If she decides I'm not in that room, she wheels around and races into the next one—living room, office, bedroom, den, bathroom. Her brow furrowed, her eyes focused, her tail held perfectly still with concentration, Ojito's a red-haired detective on a mission. She wants the "pack" together; she'll hunt until she gets us reunited.
Usually, she finds me on her first pass through the house. But sometimes, Ojito has to go through the house another time or two before discovering my hiding place. I hear her bumping against closet doors, trying to get them to open. She slows down as she passes furniture I might be behind or a corner where she might expect to catch me. She pushes her nose under doors and into small spaces, inhaling like a Hoover to see if she can catch a whiff of me.
If she hasn't found me after the first couple of passes, Ojito stands in the hallway and begins to quietly whine with frustration. So I give her another low whistle—a hint to pull her forward in the search. That second whistle is all she needs. Immediately, she wheels toward the sound and runs right to my hiding spot.
When she finds me, I clap my hands and effusively shout, "Ojito! You did it! You did it!" She prances around daintily on her paws and wildly wiggles her body, expressing all manner of pride and delight with her own little victory dance. We both dance around in celebration. Mission accomplished! Bravo!
You can see why I have a hard time believing dogs don't have emotions. At the end of our game, Ojito is always grinning ear to ear, her eyes shining with joy ... and nobody wiggles like that unless they're feeling a great deal of something.
Elizabeth Heaney, Durham
Beloved of Diana
Watching Lance stare at six deer that were feeding in the apple orchard next to my house, I saw him jump straight up, turn two airborne circles and, upon landing, take off after a buck. I watched in dismay as my beautiful, black standard poodle disappeared into the woods. When Lance wasn't home within an hour, I began to panic. That evening, as I walked through the hunting trails around my home, in a sleet that had made its first appearance for the coming Mississippi winter, I began to fear that I might never see my beloved dog again.
For six days, I posted flyers, called shelters and vets, placed half-page ads in the local newspaper and searched everywhere. The picture of Lance in the paper yielded a phone call. A couple had spotted him in the field behind their home, but he ran away when they came after him. For two days, I drove around the field.
On the seventh night, I called in the big guns. Casting a circle under the full moon and calling upon Diana to return my dog to me, I promised to give him to her upon his death. Feeling Diana charge through the woods with her hounds all around her, I pulled Lance in from all directions with an energetic green cord. At 2 a.m., hearing barking, I charged down the stairs and saw a black dog jumping off the wall by my yard. I ran to let Lance in but, instead, there was a black Labrador puppy jumping at my door, anxious to come in out of the woods.
"Diana, this is not the right black dog! But I promise to take care of this puppy if you'll send my boy back to me." The next morning, I took the puppy to a vet and then drove back to the field where Lance had been spotted. As I came up a hill, I saw—sitting in the middle of the road at the top of the hill, surrounded by green light and looking dazed—Lance.
During the next seven years, my boy, my best friend and soul mate, got me through some tough times. He was so smart that he knew what I was planning to do by watching which dresser drawer I opened. He was so funny that he engineered comical situations and laughed as they unfolded. He was so compassionate that he never growled or lunged at another living being. You may have spotted him in Durham, his head thrust out the window of my Prius.
In January, Lance was struggling to breathe, ready to go. Under the waning moon, my dog lying beside me, I petitioned Diana to come take him. Ten minutes later, in my arms, he passed away. Lance, who taught me to love, who worried about me and rejoiced with me, is part of Diana's pack now. I can feel them sometimes, under a full moon, racing, following that buck.
Joy McGehee, Durham
Emma & Julie
I loved Emma the moment I saw her at the cat rescue event. Her kittens were readily adopted, but no one seemed to want the mother. She was a beautiful calico with perfect coloring and a gentle spirit. My heart was warmed as she comforted her kittens in the noise of the crowd.
When I first met Julie, she, too, was a young mother. What was initially thought to be a clogged milk duct was actually inflammatory breast cancer. By the time she consulted our clinic, the cancer had spread to her bones. Over the coming years, I followed Julie through a roller coaster of chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries. She wanted to live long enough for her daughter to remember her.
When Julie came to the clinic, she always asked about Emma, wanting to know her latest antics. And I always asked Julie about her daughter, following her first steps, first words. These topics brought relief to our otherwise serious visits. By the time her daughter was 3, Julie's cancer had spread throughout her lungs and liver.
The last time I saw Julie, she had been admitted for palliation of the crushing fluid in her lungs and abdomen. We sat quietly and I watched her labored breathing. At one point, Julie lifted her oxygen mask and whispered, "When I die, I'm going to become your guardian angel." She put the mask back on and, after a few short breaths, removed it again to add, "Maybe I'll come back as your cat." As I got up to leave, Julie caught my arm and said, "I'll never forget you." I replied, "And I'll never forget you." A couple of months later, Julie's husband called to say she had died peacefully at home.
Five years later, Emma is still a comfort and joy. Her cat antics continue. When she does something especially clever, I jokingly ask, "Is that you, Julie?" And I swear, sometimes she responds with a blink of her eyes or a wag of her tail. A year ago, I noticed that Emma compulsively licked a spot on her belly. I found a pea-sized nodule, and a biopsy confirmed my worst fears—Emma had breast cancer. After discussing options with the vet (Emma also has an enlarged heart), I decided not to pursue treatment. I would let the cancer take its natural course as long as Emma was not in pain.
In recent months, Emma's tumor has grown to the size of a large grape, and additional lumps have been found along her belly. She has lost weight and her bones have become more prominent. But she is still fascinated by the simple pleasures: watching birds, eating, sleeping in the sun. Emma follows me throughout my home, like a guardian angel. Even now, her wise eyes watch as I type her story. For now I will let her be ... and I will remember Julie.
Writer's note: The clinic patient's name has been changed.
Kyle Terrell, Chapel Hill