When I wrote about puppies in January, I had no idea dogs would become a theme this year.
But after Arty, our Black Lab mix, died unexpectedly in March, both my wife and I wrote columns.
Now in May, I can report two positive developments.
A few days after Arty died, I was going through withdrawal without a dog in the house.
I jokingly told a neighbor, Bright Carter, that I might want to borrow one of her dogs, Lexi or Sugar, and she said Mary Davis’ dog, Mackey, was always eager for a walk.
Mary, our backdoor neighbor, can no longer exercise Mackey, and Bright had been taking him out with her dogs. But understanding my need, she generously let me step in.
Mackey, a Black Lab mix who looks like Langston, Arty’s predecessor at our house, previously lived with Mary’s sister, Ann VonGruenigen, a Siler City farm owner who took in large numbers of stray dogs. After Ann died in a motor-vehicle accident in 2011, Sarah Davis, one of Mary’s daughters, adopted Mackey.
But Sarah already had two other dogs and gave Mackey to her parents. Her father, Gray Davis, called Mackey “Dr. Mackey,” the name of a childhood physician or of one of his Wake Forest professors. He and Mackey wandered and watched television together. Gray died in 2015 at age 82.
At Bright’s suggestion, I knocked one day on Mary’s side door. Sharon Turner, Mary’s caregiver, happily sent Mackey outside, and he loped across the backyard grass to meet me at the side gate. I attached Arty’s former leash to his collar, and off we went into Grimes Park.
Mackey welcomed the opportunity. Despite his age of 11 or 12, he walked with a spring in his step. He stopped to sniff, emerging from one bush with yellow pollen dotting his head.
On Westover Drive, we said hello to Scooby, a small dog who barks so much that he seems perpetually hoarse.
After turning down North Payne Street and up West Center to Williams Circle, we greeted John and Becky Jo Davis’ Labradoodle, Lucy, whom I call Mackey’s cousin. Gray Davis was John’s brother.
Then we followed the circle back to Mackey’s home on Chestnut. “Thanks for a great walk, Mackey,” I told him.
So began a daily ritual. I would tell my wife I was having “a Mac attack” and slip away for a walk. I’ve been making it through the COVID-19 pandemic with regular visits to the doctor, but this doctor is a dog.
Over Easter weekend, something happened to add even more spring to Mackey’s step.
On Maundy Thursday, Frank Leonard, another neighbor, knocked on our door. Twice daily for more than a week, Frank had been walking two blocks to feed and exercise a 4-month-old puppy that someone had abandoned in a small pen near Lexington Cemetery.
Frank was trying to find the puppy a home, and other neighbors, Courtney and April Crowson, had told him we had lost Arty.
On Good Friday, Barbara and I accompanied Frank on one of his puppy visits. The poor puppy, its ribs showing, was clearly starved – both for food and companionship. There was no way we could leave him there.
With a pet-food donation from Frank, we agreed to foster the puppy but not necessarily to keep him. We are awaiting the birth of our first grandchild in August in New York. Our next pet must get along well with children and be able to stay without us when we are away visiting. The puppy has some Black Lab in him, but also some other breeds.
But he quickly entered our hearts. Ten pounds underweight, he ate like a horse and soon reached normal size. But he cried when we left him alone for even few minutes.
He instantly became a neighborhood celebrity. Our neighbors knew how devastated we were about Arty, and I think they were all hoping something would happen to help us feel better.
Whenever they saw the puppy, Bright Carter’s three daughters would rush over and fawn over him. “Have you decided if you are going to keep him?” Anderson, the oldest, kept asking. Finally, several days after his arrival, I could say, “Yes, we are.”
At that point, we still hadn’t named him. We considered several possibilities, including Frankie and Leonardo in honor of Frank Leonard. But we ultimately decided on Colby, because of his coal-black color.
Colby has upended our lives. He pulls towels off racks and shoes from under beds to chew on. When Barbara works in the garden, he insists on helping. He goes on play dates with Lexi and Sugar at the Carters’ and with Chris, Amanda and Webb Fulton’s Pepper across the street.
As his energy crescendoes in the late afternoon, he chases tennis balls and chews sticks in the backyard and barks at Mackey across the fence. Then at sundown he collapses and sleeps like a baby.
He and Barbara have joined the midday walks with Mackey, who has learned he must step even livelier or Colby will bite off a mouthful of his fur. Mackey ought to bite him back, just once as a lesson, but he is much too great-grandfatherly for that.
Bill Keesler is a retired Dispatch reporter and editor. Contact him at [email protected]