A story with legs — four of them

Aug. 11, 2011

By Adam White

Observer staff


Nigel, a one-year-old black Lab mix rescue dog, is named after the "Spinal Tap" guitarist whose amplifiers go to 11 – which also serves as a nod to the year in which he was adopted by Observer staff writer Adam White. (Observer photo by Adam White)

Some stories just stay with us.

As a journalist, I have always tried to keep the world at arm’s length. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

Last week, a story followed me home — and I kept it.

My piece on dog rescue (“Local rescue services battle canine crisis,” Aug. 4) was a good example of how a story takes on a life of its own, and goes where it wants to go. It started out with a potential neglect angle — a woman discovers one dead and several sick puppies at a foster home and alerts authorities — that turned out instead to be a misunderstanding over the awful canine disease parvo.

So I instead shifted gears into an expose on rescue services and the kill-shelter crisis. That brought me to Petco in South Burlington one Saturday for an adoption event, to interview rescue workers, fosters and potential new dog owners about the process.

I left with a notebook full of quotes, some great pictures, and a one-year-old black Lab mix that I have since named Nigel.

Part of me knew this was going to happen. I have always loved dogs, having grown up with a black Lab named Jake who would fetch anything I would throw until my shoulder could take no more. I bought a home in Jericho this past winter with a 1.5-acre, fenced-in yard, and had at least subconsciously been sizing up the lawn for canine long-toss ever since.

Truth be told, Nigel isn’t a purebred Lab. According to the Humane Society, only about 25-percent of rescue dogs are. He is a mix, a cross, a mutt — a hybrid, as I like to say. I believe he has at least a touch of German shepherd in him.

But that is one of the most fascinating things about rescuing a dog — you are left with a four-legged puzzle to try and solve. I know virtually nothing about Nigel, other than a smattering of clues from the medical records I received with him.

He was found as a stray outside of Greenville, S.C., as a months-old puppy; his temporary kennel name, Banberry, was the name of the street he was picked up on. This helps explain why he has clung to me like a dryer sheet ever since I took him home. I had been warned that rescue dogs often have separation/abandonment issues, and that has proved true in this case.

His rabies vaccination certificate indicates that he was fostered, or at least kenneled, in New York City earlier this year — the East Village of Manhattan, to be exact. This explains several facets of his behavior: he is almost impeccably housebroken, his nails are short and neat and he was far more interested in people than other dogs on a recent trip to Church St. in Burlington.

A city dog needs to learn to hold nature’s call, until he gets walked outside — where the sidewalks of the “concrete jungle” act as one giant nail file. And growing up in the East Village, he would have come in contact with far more hipsters than four-legged friends.

That rabies certificate contained a phone number, and at first I tried to call it to get some further insight into Nigel’s background. But I got a strange “all circuits are busy” recording, and took that to mean that this might be one story I need to figure out on my own.

It has been an adventure so far. Though Nigel has gained weight rapidly and now tips the scales at close to 70 pounds, he was able to squeeze through a window opening less than a foot wide and jump out of my Jeep (thankfully, while it was parked). He quickly learned that the surest way to get my attention is to snap up one of my shoes at home, and nonchalantly walk by me with it. Games of keep-away typically ensue, much to his delight and my frustration.

He has a fascination with dumpsters and garbage cans that he undoubtedly developed during his rather unstable young life, but that I am desperate to break him of. I remind him on a regular basis that he is not homeless any more.

Having no children, I regard dog ownership as a sort of parenting practice. Tough-love discipline has proved difficult for both of us; my mother used to say that God makes babies and puppies so cute so you don’t just give up on them.

We have already had our first medical emergency, when a bout of late-night gassiness on his part and too much reading of “Virtual Vet” websites on mine sent us rushing to Burlington Emergency and Veterinary Services in Williston. I was convinced he was going to drop dead any second of the dreaded bloat; he was thrilled to be going for an impromptu car ride, way past his bedtime.

Stories have changed me in smaller ways in the past, have shifted my perspective on some things and shaken my faith in others. Good stories grab our attention, and great ones capture your imagination.

As it turns out, the very best ones steal our shoes, too.


Adam White is a staff writer for the Williston Observer. He can be reached at