I’m a bit late in honoring the anniversary of an incredible act by an incredible dog.
Backstory: As described in Lance: A Spirit Unbroken, Lance was a border collie that my wife Clara and I rescued. He had lived outside for over 10 years, at the mercy of bad people, bad weather, and wild animals. He turned out to be semi-feral and untrustworthy around people, my wife and I included. He bit both Clara and me on the day he moved in with us. Sporadic attacks occurred, often without warning, until the day he died. Clara was the victim of the worst of Lance's attacks, and she has scars on her face, hand, and leg as reminders. I also personally witnessed Lance kill a woodchuck and a deer, both brutal events but ones I could not stop.
We utilized a dog obedience trainer who was impressed with Lance’s rapid learning of basic commands. However, she was concerned about his threatening and lunging behavior. She referred us to a school for herding and obedience. The director rejected Lance’s “application” because she felt his wires had been irreparably crossed. It wasn't that he was an unintelligent dog—in fact, he was extremely bright and alert. He had simply lived outside too long and been assaulted too often, making him unsuitable for domesticity. At one point, we actively searched for someone or some organization more qualified to deal with him but even the Border Collie Rescue Association said that if they took Lance, most likely he would be euthanized. That left it up to us to pull the switch ourselves and we couldn’t. We wound up living with Lance for the duration of his life. During that time one event in particular occurred that Clara and I still marvel at.
On February 7, 2006 in the early a.m., Clara and I were preparing to go to the airport and fly to Florida. We were planning to visit Clara's brother, Eddie, who had recently turned his life around after battling with drug addiction for decades. We were minutes from leaving the house when Clara got a phone call from her sister-in-law Toni who was screaming, "Eddie's dead. He died from a heart attack. He's gone." Clara was instantly overcome with grief and, sobbing uncontrollably, threw herself into the recliner in our living room. I picked up the phone, not really knowing what to say in such a situation. At the same time, Lance rushed over to Clara, propped himself up with his front paws on her legs and began staring intently at her. Clara was now literally shuddering in tears. My immediate thought was that Lance was about to attack at the very worst possible time. Before I could even think how to prevent such a disaster, Lance leaned towards Clara and began washing away her tears. She burst out, "Look at what this dog is doing!" That’s all I could do, because the whole scene had frozen me in place and left me speechless. Both Clara and I both started crying harder, not only for the passing of Eddie but for this show of empathy by an animal, one who had himself been so brutally treated for over a decade.
They say dogs like the salt in our tears. But it's also safe to say that having lived outside all his life, Lance had never seen a human’s tears. Since salt is odorless, he would not have been attracted to its scent in Clara’s tears. I know what I saw and believe Lance sensed Clara was in deep pain and he reacted as he saw fit.
How would you interpret Lance’s actions?
Walter Stoffel is a substance abuse counselor and GED teacher in correctional facilities. When not behind bars, he likes to read, travel, work out and watch bad movies. Major accomplishment : He entered a 26.2-mile marathon following hip replacement surgery and finished—dead last. The author currently lives with his wife Clara, their dog Buddy (another rescue), and cat Winky (yet another rescue).
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