Old dog teaches new trick

Taiga, anthropologist Nuna Teal’s 17-year-old golden retriever, is nearly blind and completely deaf, which means that Taiga and my father have a lot in common. The big difference? Taiga doesn’t drive.
Not driving, however, was actually problematic for Taiga two weeks ago, when she got lost.
The world, of course, is filled with amazing lost dog stories. Earlier this month, a basset hound named Fred was rescued in Flagstaff, Ariz., 430 miles from his home in Riverside, Calif.. No one has any idea how Fred wandered so far from his neighborhood, and he’s not talking. In my opinion, Taiga’s tale is up there with the best of these stories.
Nuna had just moved from Huntington to Lincoln, when Taiga disappeared. One moment the dog was dozing outside Nuna’s new home on a hill outside the village, and the next she was gone. It was a Thursday evening.
Now, Nuna and Taiga have been pals since Taiga was a puppy. (Just for the record, Taiga — pronounced Ti-Ga — is not Tiger with a New York accent. Taiga is the Russian name for the boreal forest that exists across North America and Eurasia, just below the Arctic. I do not know this because I am smart. I know this because Nuna is a patient anthropologist who explains things very well. Also, I googled the word.) Their friendship has spanned more than a decade and a half, and the golden retriever grew up with Nuna’s children. She has always been a protective and loving and gentle soul.
Consequently, when Taiga disappeared, Nuna was devastated. She spent Friday and Saturday putting up posters and searching the nearby woods for her elderly pal.
She didn’t bother to call for Taiga, since the animal wouldn’t have heard, which made the search at once poignant and pathetic. Among the cavalry Nuna enlisted as help was Tigger, Taiga’s 10-year-old daughter. “Tigger ran around in circles, sniffed, and just basked in all the attention,” recalls Nuna. “But she was also completely useless.” People tried to console Nuna with circle-of-life bromides about how Taiga was old and had gone off to die, but Nuna wasn’t buying it. “She may be blind and deaf, but her smeller sure works and she seems pretty fit,” Nuna recalls thinking.
Nonetheless, by Saturday night, Nuna had begun to give up hope. The dog was 17 years old and had been gone for two days. She didn’t believe the animal could last another day in the wild without food. Consequently, she did something she had never done before. She prayed. She was, she says, raised a heathen, and so this was an act of absolute desperation. “I put my hands together and prayed to God to bring my ancient dog back,” she says.
The next morning, my wife happened to glance out the front door of our house, and she noticed a dog she’d never seen before. A golden retriever. She brought the docile creature to the general store and compared it with the photocopy of the missing dog on the poster. It could be the same animal, but she wasn’t positive. And so she clapped her hands near the dog’s head. Absolutely no response, which was a good sign.
She left a message on Nuna’s answering machine that she had found the old girl and piled Taiga into the back of her station wagon. Then she drove up the hill to the house where she thought the dog lived. Nuna was already outside when she arrived. And when Nuna saw her beloved friend, she burst into tears — which, inevitably, caused my wife to burst into tears. And Taiga? She was so happy to be home she was spinning in circles like a dervish, which sounds more graceful than it was because Taiga really is pretty blind and was bumping into shrubs and human legs as she spun. But she was back with Nuna and the world once more was right.
Now, it is worth noting where my wife spotted Taiga when she glimpsed the animal that Sunday morning. Our house looks out upon the church, and the dog was sitting contentedly beside the building. Taiga was watching — excuse me, smelling — the world go by as she rested beside the church’s wheelchair ramp.
Given Nuna’s first-ever prayer the night before, was this a small miracle? Or was it a mere coincidence? Could be either. Personally, I think God is in the details at least as often as the devil, and so I tend to slot it more toward the former category than the latter. Sometimes, those wondrous signs of divinity are big: burning bushes, parting seas. But more often they’re smaller and more subtle. And they’re sitting right outside our front doors.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on June 24.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

2 thoughts on “Old dog teaches new trick

  1. Sila says:

    I am Nuna’s daughter and I just read your collumn about our dog Tiaga. Thankyou so much for this wonderful story, I will keep it forever as a memory of my beloved dog, whom I can not believe is yet to be a memory. I am 18 and have had her since I was 1, you can imagine how attatched I am to her. Please thank your wife for finding her. Give her a big hug for me.

  2. Faith In Sorrow says:

    I’m so glad this worked out so well. I know, personally, that not every tender, deeply felt prayer for an animal’s safe return brings this happy outcome. Still, I would not hesitate to pray again for an animal’s safety. It seems to me that personal beliefs (or even lack, thereof) do not truly matter, when a beloved animal is in a risky situation.

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