Book excerpt from Cold Noses & Warm Hearts, Two
the sequel to Wiles’ bestselling book, Cold Noses & Warm Hearts. Coming in 2022.
By Laurie Bogart Wiles
I WAS WASHING UP THE BREAKFAST DISHES one summer’s morning when a flash of silver caught my eye through the kitchen window. Silhouetted against the dark woods was a beautiful Siberian Husky. Who owned such a dog? No one around here, for sure; the animal must be lost. I dried my hands and headed outside to call to the dog–surely there was a tag on her collar–but when she saw me, she dashed into the woods.
The wildlife population in our part of the world had come back. The red squirrel, long thought to have left these parts, had returned, also the red fox. Turkey and deer—more than anyone ever could recall—were prolific. Reports of bears breaking into kitchens to abscond with fresh-baked pies, coyote marauders, feral cats, and a jaguar sighting, present a real danger and I worried about that beautiful silver dog.
It was worrisome was that no one had claimed the missing dog. I called the dog warden.
“Prob’ly left on the side of the road,” the dog warden said. “I’ve never picked up an abandoned dog around here, but it happens downstate all the time. Just a matter of time before we start seeing that sort of thing. Maybe this one’s the first.”
“Who would do something like that?”
“You never can tell. Let me know if you see it again.”
“I will,” I said, and hung up the phone.
She was there again the next morning, at the same spot. Our dogs hadn’t scented her yet. I stepped outside and saw the Husky stiffen and look directly at me. In a heartbeat, she once again disappeared into the dense woods. A dog this skittish must be young, or more likely, abused. She had returned, but I doubted she’d come back a third time.
I was wrong. I was in the backyard, feeding my two Labs, Teal and Tessie, in their outdoor kennel when I caught sight of her angular silvery face peeking through the low-hanging branches of a birch tree. Even at a distance I could see from the haunted expression in her eyes that she was frightened and hungry. I pretended I hadn’t seen her. The dogs were so intent on their dinner that they took no notice. After they finished, I buckled a leash to their collars and led them indoors to be sure they didn’t see the Husky and run after her. They saw her, though, and went into a frenzy, barking and lunging in her direction, but she had already run off. I got them into the house and slammed the door shut. Then I put some dog food and a little raw meat in a dog dish and took it out to the edge of the woods. Maybe she’d come back for the food. More likely, the coyotes or the bears would get at it, anyway.
The Husky did not show up the next day or the day after that. Maybe she had moved on. Hopefully she found her way home. Surprisingly, I saw the Husky standing in the same spot, on the third day. This time I needed a new strategy. I couldn’t approach her. I didn’t want to make any eye contact—that alone might cause her to bolt. Instead, I walked out our front door and sat under the ancient pine tree on my front lawn—she would see me there—and waited to see what she might do.
The weather had been wonderful that August; the sky was a bright, cloudless, cornflower blue, a gentle breeze rustled the high grass, and the sun was warm. Five minutes went by, then 15, and in the corner of my eye I saw her taking timid steps toward me. I turned my head to look at her—what a mistake! She dashed back into the woods.
This began a ritual. Every evening I set a bowl of food in the same place near the woods. Every afternoon I would see her, then I’d sit under the big pine, and wait. Each time I held a tasty meat morsel in my hand. She certainly would smell the delicious treat! Yes, the meat would entice her. And every day she came a little closer. Then, one day, she came right up to me. I didn’t look at her. I barely breathed. One minute passed, then two, and the beautiful creature lay down by my side. I held the morsel in my open hand. She sniffed it, looked up at me as if for permission, and when I smiled, she delicately put her soft muzzle in my hand and took the meat. She ate hungrily and when she finished, the most incredible thing happened. She put her head on my lap, closed her eyes, and slept. I ran my hand along down her graceful, strong neck. Her coat was thick and soft. Tears welled in my eyes.
This was our routine every day for a number of days and after our time together, she would return to the woods only to appear when I came out the following afternoon to sit under the old pine. One day, I decided to give her a bath. I had brought a lead and slipped it around her neck. She did not protest, and I led her to the backyard.
My kennels were 12-by-24 feet chain-link fences, divided in half to make two separate sections. The Labs were in one and when they saw me coming with the Husky, began barking and growling ferociously. The husky whimpered in a funny, soft, throaty little voice.
The Husky remained calm as I led her into the empty kennel. She did not flinch when I took a sponge, dipped it into a pail of water I had prepared, and wet her coat, rubbing shampoo into the thick, luxurious fur, then washed her down with the hose. She shook herself robustly, ate the meal I had prepared for her, and then sprawled out as the warm sun dried her coat. Meanwhile, the Labs, who I had brought inside by now, were barking relentlessly and
I knew that there would be war without peace unless my dogs accepted the Husky as a new family member. I was hopeful but that did not last for long. I knew in my heart of hearts I would have to find a home for Mist—that’s what I named her. After all, she was the color of a silvery mist and like the mist, could disappear as quickly. I called the dog warden, to see if he had any response to the notices I had posted around town.
“Nobody’s come forward,” he said. “I can come by and take her to the shelter.”
“No,” I replied. “Let’s wait till the weekend. Maybe the person who lost her is a flatlander,” I said, referring to the growing onslaught of weekend warriors from Boston.
The following day, a friend of mine dropped by unexpectedly. He was from Boston, but for generations, his family had had a weekend lake house here.
“What a gorgeous dog!” Tom exclaimed when I took him out to the kennels, where Mist had been living happily, content in her new doghouse home and to have two feedings a day. “What’s her name?”
“Mist,” I replied, rubbing the animal between the ears.
“I’ve never seen such a gorgeous dog,” he said admiringly.
“We can’t find her owner,” I explained, “and the dog warden’s coming Monday to take her to the shelter.”
“Look,” Tom said. “You know I’ve been looking for a dog. Why don’t I adopt Mist? I can take her now if you like.”
“Well…” I said halfheartedly. “Why not. I know you’ll take good care of her. You will, won’t you? And you’ll give her all sorts of love. Right?”
“Or course I will,” Tom grinned. I slipped Mist’s lead over her head. “Come on, Mist,” Tom said. Mist looked up with at me with her lovely white-blue eyes and I knew she was confused and as broken-hearted as I was.
“It’s okay, girl,” I said soothingly, sadly. “Tom’s going to give you a good home. Go on, Tom,” I urged through my tears. “But please, call me later and let me know how she’s doing. You know…if it doesn’t work out…”
“Don’t worry,” Tom interrupted. “We’re going to get along just fine.”
I waited until his Jeep was long out of sight down our rural road and went back into the house. Teal and Tess came up to me and nudged my hands with their muzzles. It was the first time since Mist had entered our lives that they behaved like their old selves. Life seemed to be settling down once more.
Then, very early the next morning, the phone rang.
“She’s gone!” the voice on the other end said breathlessly. “I’ve been out all night looking for her.”
“Mist is gone!”
“What do you mean? What happened?”
“I took her outside before bed and suddenly she jumped up and somehow slipped the lead over her head. It happened just like that! Before I could catch up with her, she had disappeared into the night. There’s no sign of her anywhere!”
“I’ll call the dog warden, Tom,” I said, “maybe she’s been found.”
I hung up and looked out the kitchen window, thinking, hoping, she’d be in the place where I first saw her. I went out to the kennels, walked around the house, across the field and into the woods. Nothing, just the chatting of robins and a squirrel scolding me. What if she got hit by a car? What if she fell into the lake and drowned? All sorts of horrible visions flashed through my mind’s eye until finally I went to our usual resting place under the old pine tree. The sun was warm, and the breeze ran its wind-fingers through my hair. I covered my face with my hands and wept.
And then, I felt her warm, soft muzzle in the palm of my hand.
“Mist!” I cried. “Oh, Mist, you’re back! You’re home!” and I wrapped my arms around my beautiful animal’s neck and buried my head in her thick fur.
There are some few unexpected moments in life that stay with you always. They live in a special place deep inside. That’s where I keep that precious moment with Mist—the last I would ever spend with her. There is an unspoken language between a man, woman, or child and God’s lesser creature that, if you feel a special connection, is more meaningful than words. It’s based on trust, kindness, and unconditional love. I had that with Mist, and she with me. And so, when I looked into her eyes, I understood that she was telling me goodbye—for good. It was time. She had to go—and now I understood why.
Earlier that morning, shortly after I called the dog warden, our local fish and game warden’s truck unexpectedly pulled into driveway.
“Laurie,” he said, “the warden called and said you had a stray dog.”
“Yes,” I replied, “but she’s gone. Tom was adopting her when she threw her lead.”
“Too bad. We almost had her,” Warden Lovequist said, shaking his head.
“Almost had her? What are you talking about?” I asked, confused.
The tall, lanky man pushed his game warden’s hat off his brow. “We’ve been looking for her for weeks.”
“Warden Lovequist, tell me what you’re talking about?”
“That wolf, of course!” he exclaimed.
“What did you think?” Warden Lovequist asked, in alarm.
“That’s a Siberian Husky! That’s Mist!”
“Mist? That’s no dog! That’s a wolf! Surely you knew! Didn’t you notice that square of fur shaven off her neck, just under her jaw?”
“I suppose I did,” I replied slowly, recalling I saw the shorn area when I bathed her.
“She threw her tracking collar. We were monitoring her movements for months. She was captured just north of here, came down from Canada, we reckon. There hasn’t been a wolf in these parts for years and years—decades, in fact. We wanted to find out if she’d return to where she came from and whether the wolf population is coming back to these parts.”
“A wolf…” I repeated softly.
“Thank goodness she didn’t attack you!” Warden Lovequist said.
“Attack me? Mist would never…”
“Laurie, that’s a wild animal. Wild animals are dangerous—especially wolves.” The game warden’s expression softened. He saw the crestfallen expression in my face and the tears welling up in my eyes.
“You were lucky, you know,” he said softly.
“Yes,” I replied, “I was lucky. Very, very lucky.”
And so, that same afternoon, when I looked into Mist’s eyes, I knew she was saying goodbye. She was ready to go home back to where she came from. I knew I would never see her again. She would disappear into the woods, and my life, just as she had appeared. For one last time she put her soft nuzzle in my hand. For one last time, ran my hand through her thick, soft fur. She trotted to the edge of the woods, turned around, and looked at me, for one last time.
And then she was gone.
Read HELENE GRIMAUD: Bach, Bartok, Mozart & Wolves in our Winter Issue. It is the poignant story of how one of the world’s most celebrated pianists began a rescue foundation for endangered wolves.