When my dog Rosie died peacefully on March 26, it marked the end of 14 years in the witness protection program.
Just like the human programs run by the U.S. Marshals Service and other government entities to create new identities and protect innocent victims from harm, Rosie’s canine version was designed to keep her safe from an abusive situation. It involved a name change, a fake backstory and even some co-conspirators. And it worked. Now, the truth can be told.
It began on a “dark and stormy night,” just like Snoopy would write in the Peanuts cartoon strip.
I was driving down the 50-mph stretch of a two-lane country road in my Michigan village when I spotted a black miniature schnauzer on the yellow line. It was raining hard and cars were swerving around her. I slammed on the brakes, opened my door and – unbelievably – she leaped over my lap onto the passenger’s seat where my dog Pinki was sitting. Pinki, also a miniature schnauzer, was not amused. The mystery dog had no collar or license, and was bedraggled and shivering.
I immediately took her to the local sheriff’s office. “Why don’t you just take her home and call the Humane Society in the morning?” was the officer’s response. So I did.
At home, the dog enjoyed a big bowl of kibble, ransacked Pinki’s toy basket and spent the night curled up at the end of my bed – a preview of thousands of nights to come. In the morning, I began calling around to find her owner. When I contacted my local veterinarian, she searched her database of dogs listed by breed and began calling clients. One of them said she was not aware that her dog was missing. But after searching her property, she said: “Oh. I guess she is.”
The vet let me wait in the office until the neglectful owner picked up the dog. When she arrived, she snapped on a collar, gave the leash a yank and said: “Damn dog!” My heart sank. Then, she turned to me and said: “Ok, how much do you want?”
“Nothing! I just wanted to see that she got back to her rightful owner!”
Three months passed.
The vet called.
“Our friend is back.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“Remember that dog you found? She’s been picked up any number of times on the road. She’s going to be killed someday. Do you want her?”
I picked her up five minutes later. She was covered with long, matted hair and you could see her ribs. I named her Rosie because I first found her on the Catholic feast day of St. Rose of Lima, a patron of gardeners, florists and those suffering from family problems.
My friend Karen, a dog groomer, patiently untangled Rosie’s knotted fur and gave her a bath. What emerged was a canine with an extreme makeover. She rapidly gained weight and wore pink collars covered with hearts and butterflies. “Rosie won the lottery!” everyone said.
But I worried: What if someone recognized her? On occasion, someone passing us in the park would say: “What a beautiful dog! Where did you get her?”
“From a wonderful breeder in Virginia!”
I never let my guard down about Rosie’s identity in the ensuing years. She became my constant companion and great comfort, seeing me through my husband’s cancer diagnosis, the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges. We walked miles together every day. She had a crush on Mac, an Australian cattle dog who lived around the block and frolicked with her best friend Ginger, another terrier. Rosie loved boiled chicken, cuddling at night and visiting our grandkids.
She began to fade this winter, barely able to walk down the driveway. A combination of congestive heart failure and cancer of the spleen finally claimed her life. She died in the embrace of a family who loved her. The sadness only lifted after my six-year-old granddaughter Eleanor painted a picture of Rosie smiling and crossing the rainbow bridge. A final road trip that I pray took her straight to heaven.