Willy is a poodle mix, a dog rescued and now owned by a friend here at the Sequoias Portola Valley (in Cailfornia), a full nursing retirement community just west of Stanford.
We know nothing about his former life as a stray in the Bay Area, but somehow he came to love both human beings and other dogs. He has no obvious mental wounds to scratch, but during his walks he can be very stubborn about preferring pavement to rough ground. His owner usually walks the campus, so Willy is not used to gravel in his paws.
What makes him amazing is his memory and his ability to communicate with us human beings. The first incident that caught my attention occurred while we were walking the campus. Our single-story apartment buildings are laid out in alternating right angles with four lovely courtyards across 42 acres circled by a perimeter road about one mile long.
On our way from an evening walk, Willy stubbornly insisted on taking the turn toward his home apartment. Our eyes met and I said, “Willy. We have to wait for ‘Alice’” (not her real name). He met my eyes. I repeated the sentence. He stopped pulling on the leash and trotted off toward our Neeper apartment.
That happened twice The third time I followed him to Alice’s apartment. When there was no answer to my knocking, he led me around to the back door. Again I said, “We have to wait for Alice.” He made the connection and turned toward our apartment with no objections.
I have been taking care of Willy for about a week now, while his human mistress recovers from a setback. His only requirement–announced by a night of whining–is that he wants to sleep near us at night. Dog books recommend this, since their genetic makeup insists that they sleep together in packs. Putting “his” pillow beside our bed did the trick, after I insisted he settle down off the bed with a firm hand command and a friendly petting. In the middle of the first night he snuck up onto the bed, but quickly retreated, then stayed on the floor pillow, after my sleepy feet stretched out and found dog.
That first morning I awoke early, just in time to give Willy his early morning walk. He jumped and played in excitement, making it hard for me to get dressed. The next morning I quickly shut the bedroom door so he wouldn’t interfere with my morning routine, and to my amazement, he waited quietly behind the closed door so husband Don didn’t wake up. With no barking or scratching, he waited until I had dressed, opened the door, and insisted it was OK to come out. Off we went, leaving Don to sleep in.
One morning, while I was working in the Sequoias’ cutting garden, he showed the same sensitivity. He stayed relaxed in leash distance while I planted a few flowers and did some weeding, each time coming close to check out the blooms I showed him.
One morning on our walk, we crossed trails with two fawns, a young male, and 2 female deer. His questioning first “woof” escalated quickly to the beginning of an attack bark, but it stopped when I said “Beautiful deer, Willy. Look.” Together we watched them move by the parking lot at a slow pace, nibbling grass seeds. (The local deer seem to know that dogs on leash are not a threat.I’ve seen them run in a sudden panic when a friend’s dog appeared off leash. They settled down to grazing when the dog was put back on leash.)
Willy was always happy to go home to Alice’s apartment, exhibiting the same excited jumping and licking with which he greeted me. He also was happy to greet other dogs, unlike some other rescue dogs here, who had probably survived on the streets of San Francisco by putting on a fierce attack when they met other dogs.
My last walk with Willy will come tomorrow, for his human family have decided it will be best for him to live on a farm in the midwest, complete with other dogs. But he will live forever in my mind as a good, devoted friend that had mastered the art of understanding and getting along with us humans.