Source: Sherman Publications

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Guest viewpoint
Clarkston through walks with Nina

September 07, 2011

Dear Editor,

We walk a lot, partly for my own septuagenarian need for exercise and partly for hers. We take a series of prescribed paths in Clarkston.

When I walk with her, she's the kind of dog that elicits villager comments such as: "What kind of dog is that?" or, "She looks like the dog in that movie 'Winn Dixie.'" Truth is we don't know what her breeding is part Irish Wolf Hound and part Border Collie, we think.

She has not been on the silver screen as far as we know. In fact, we know little of her prior five-year life before my wife found her picture on a Lansing, Michigan rescue league website and contacted the league about adopting her. Two years into her life with us has us asking ourselves how did we get so lucky?

She was within one day of being euthanized, we were told. She rarely barks. I only have occasion to hear her vocalize if another dog, either on our walks or in the local dog park, gets aggressive with her or threatens me.

She would eat all day, given the chance. Two schools of thought on that all dogs would or rescue dogs in particular, fearing that they will never eat again, are that way.

The Lansing league referred to her as a "Velcro" dog, for her need to be with people. On our walks, it's not unusual to see a jogger interrupt his or her routine and stop to pet her. Nina always obliges.

While most dogs will eagerly chase a ball or Frisbee, Nina will have none of it. She is a "sight hound" though and will lunge on the leash in an effort to pursue an unwary squirrel, rabbit, or ground hog she might espy. My wife and I believe that play was denied her because she may have been tied up and left alone a good deal of her early life. In fact, one of the stipulations from the rescue league was that we not do that. She will play briefly with her few plush toys, but soon abandons them. In a vain effort to get her to fetch my walking shoes, she hears "toys" when I ask her to get my "shoes," and she will attack her duck or alligator before we head out the door.

When Nina was introduced to our short-haired black cat, she accepted Wane right away. What we knew we had to do was feed Wane in a place high enough to keep his food away from Nina. Our kitchen counters are a little over three feet high and proved to be no challenge for Nina. We devised another cat food plan.

Nina is the most sociable of dogs. On our walks she will insist on greeting all, dogs in tow or not. She will even pause at some of the homes where some of her distant relatives live. That trait has allowed us to get to know a DogBook group of owners and their best friends.

We vary our route every day and the beauty of the small village/city of Clarkston is that we can do that. Across from my home lives a retired entrepreneur, who built up his tool and die company and then sold it for a price that allowed him to walk away. He has two labs, yellow and brown, Micky and Mocha.

A family of three Border Collie show dogs live a short distance up the street from me. When Nina and I are within sight of any one of them, they begin a chorus of loud barking and keep it up until we disappear up the road. I have dubbed them "The Barker" family.

Julie, a single mom, is a cancer survivor who is studying to be a RN. Her license plate reads:"LIVE4NW." She owns two purebreds, a Bernese Sheepdog, Enzo, and an American Bulldog with a menacing underbite, Gibson.

We frequently encounter a big-time trial attorney, who before setting off to his Detroit office, walks his brown lab, in season and out, in the Clarkston morning. When Mollie spots us, she makes a bee line for us and greets us both with a slobbery nuzzling.

The most energetic dog we meet is a female Spuds McKenzie. She is a bundle of kinetic activity, a beautiful example of the breed. Her owner, Russ, a retired General Motors engineer, constantly apologizes to me for her behavior as he struggles to control her, but I tell him not to worry. Luna will quiet down as she matures, and in any case, Nina lets her know when she has frolicked too far.

Sometimes, our route takes us past the home of a middle-aged man recovering from his bout with bladder cancer. Jim doesn't have a dog, but he keeps a box of dog biscuits in his garage on the chance that we will pass by. I think he uses contact with Nina as a form of therapy and a reminder of how much a good dog contributes to one's life. That makes two of us.

Bill Byrne is a resident of Clarkston.