Not long after my husband Chuck and I purchased a home on 68 acres in Leroy Township, Ohio, in 1977 and started developing the land into a private airport, we wondered if there was some force out there that spoke special messages to stray dogs and cats saying, “Go see the Reeds; they’ll feed you and give you a home.” Over the years, we took many cats and a few dogs to rescue centers because of the number of “drop-offs.”
Further complicating our animal ownership was my severe allergy to their dander, so we always had to make special accommodations for our pets. They have been housed in a heated “condo kennel” with three compartments, each having access to a common fenced-in play yard and a gate to allow free time outside. Our dogs have received much care, love and opportunity for exercise.
When Chuck died in 2008, Clyde, a red-bone coonhound, was our only dog. A student in my class at Riverside High School, Christopher Joles, had been a close friend and frequent presence at our home; in 2009 he moved into the in-law apartment attached to the house and became Pheasant Run Airport’s manager. He had always been as much of a dog-lover as Chuck and I had, so “having big brown eyes to look into” continued as a way of life.
When Clyde died in 2009, I went to Geauga Rescue Village and adopted Arthur, another coonhound. He was quickly joined by a puppy, Harley, a beagle/corgi mix.
When our beloved Arthur passed two years ago, Chris and I went to the Lake County Humane Society and adopted Brutus, a black and tan coonhound.
Meanwhile, Chris took on Fox, a 7-pound chihuahua/corgi mix, who stays with him in his apartment. Custody of Fox is shared with Chris’ girlfriend, Maribel Figueroa, who lives about 40 miles from us.
Even while we were at the humane society arranging to take Brutus, I was disappointed at his name and would have been happier if he had been unnamed so I could call him “ Atticus” after the fictional hero in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
Names themselves have always been very important to me (most teachers feel the same way), and when given a choice, I’ve wanted to evaluate my dogs’ personalities before naming them; after all, calling a Burmese mountain dog or a St. Bernard “Mitzie” just doesn’t cut it. “
Brutus” is a macho-sounding name, and our dog is representative of that image, but he certainly doesn’t have traits of the first Brutus, a senator in Rome and member of the conspiracy that assassinated Julius Caesar, as depicted by Shakespeare in the play of the same name.
The character Brutus in Julius Caesar was deeply principled and introspective and never made a move until weighing every nuance of a situation. Dog Brutus, however, is full of energy with the attention span of a nanosecond, and when on a hunt, is 50 pounds of nose followed by a tail. While trying to cover all of Leroy in the first two days he was here, he got lost but thanks to having a locator chip implanted, we found him. He thereby became the most expensive dog I’ve ever owned. (Thank you, Invisible Fence folks).
The real issue comes down to a shocking truth for an English teacher to admit: I do not like William Shakespeare’s plays, ANY of them, but especially Julius Caesar; and adopting Brutus required using “that name” many times per day. Just ask yourself if you would have a good attitude toward anything that you had read or listened to 252 times in your lifetime, as I did in the teaching of Julius Caesar, and maybe my recoiling from Shakespeare makes sense.
Still, there was no doubt that while at the humane society, Brutus’ name made no difference when he looked at Chris and me as if to say, “Take me, me, me.”
Somewhere along the line, I asked Chris if he knew who the historical Brutus had been. He said, “Sure, Popeye’s enemy.”
I said, “I don’t know that comic strip, but the FIRST famous Brutus was in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. Brutus led the conspiracy that assassinated Caesar.”
To test my suspicion that no one under 60 likely knows about that Brutus –after all, he lived B.C. — I next asked Matt King, a young man we had hired here to help with painting. I thought Matt might have more knowledge because his mom Terri had been teaching in the English Department with me. Matt’s best guess was that there was a Brutus in some rock band, and that is highly likely.
Obviously I grew to love my dog in spite of his name, and little more was said about names until one late fall when a stray female dog showed up here. I had gone over to the hangar deck when I was startled by a black streak of dog running by the back of the building and around the dike of our pond.
Luckily both Harley and Brutus were in their play yard, and as the stray got closer to them, the two guys barked briefly but quickly settled and stared with intense interest. In spite of vets having given the two the ole’ snip-snip many years ago, I could visualize the male dogs’ discussion:
Brutus: Wow, Har; look at that gorgeous, long-legged black gal.
Harley: Aww, Bru; she’s too tall for me. You can have her. She sure is pretty to look at, though.
It didn’t take long for Chris and me to realize the stray was extremely skittish; she was way too thin and obviously had to be hungry, but no amount of talking and cajoling, with food bowls in our hands, would entice her; she wouldn’t get closer than about 30 feet.
Several times when I went over to the deck, it seemed she had taken up residence, so I started putting food there for her every night. And for a week I didn’t sleep well, the “Is she cold; is she hungry?” scenarios going through my head.
Then, it seemed she disappeared – no sign of her for five days, but the nights hadn’t gotten awfully cold yet. Chris and I tried to believe she’d found her way home or that someone had earned her trust and taken her in. Then the next Friday morning, she was back on the deck, thinner than before, but still too scared to come near me.
He and I had, meanwhile, each made decisions we’d kept to ourselves: If we could get her, we’d keep her and she could have our “empty dog condo unit.” But the woman at the pound said she should be checked for an implanted chip and given a health check. Nonetheless, we began the discussion about names:
Chris: Well, we have one dog named after a Shakespearean character. What was Caesar’s wife’s name?
Chris: That’s really a cool name – sounds good.
Me. Wait a minute. Calpurnia was Caesar’s wife’s name. Brutus’ wife was Portia.
Chris: I like that even better. If we can keep the dog, we’ll call her Portia.
(It’s a good thing my partner Patrick wasn’t here; when he isn’t operating on people, he is a huge classic/antique car enthusiast and would have thought we were saying “Porsche”).
Chris had called the dog pound earlier – nothing they could do unless we caught her, but he was told one of their people could come out with a Have-a-Heart cage if she stayed around. So on Thursday, the cage was brought with food “bait” inside. She wasn’t trapped in the morning but her footprints were all around. (Ice had jammed the mechanism, and the door hadn’t dropped down).
By early afternoon Friday, “Portia” was in the cage, quivering more the closer I got to her. Because it had started to snow, I put a plastic cover over the top of the cage and could see how very healthy she looked and guessed she was a black lab/shepherd mix, but it about broke my heart how frightened she was.
What a sap I am! I called the dog warden’s office and told them that if she went up for adoption, we wanted first choice. I was told to call back Monday and they should know if she had an identifying chip or any health problems.
It was a short discussion Monday with the best possible result: “Portia’s” owner had reported her missing and picked her up. Her home was in Painesville, at least nine miles from us. Maybe the owner had been visiting someone out here, or maybe it was a very roundabout way for the dog to make it this far. And here we were, worrying about and mentally naming a dog we didn’t even know.
Somehow the sagas that happen to me usually end up having many “chapters,” and the stray dog story was no different. While in a restaurant in mid-January, Chris was recognized by a young woman who said to him, “Hi, I was the one from the pound who came out to see the stray you took care of at the airport.”
She had the full story: The dog had been gone for a full two months before we managed to capture her; no doubt she’d been on the road or traveling the woods the whole time. The owner said she was lovable but afraid of anyone she didn’t know and was a “runner” – a door accidentally left open and she was gone. What a survivor she was! The owner had been ecstatic to get her back and had given up on ever seeing her again.
Chris had earlier commented that it would be a nice Christmas present for the owner if she were found and returned, and that is just what had happened about December 22.
If “Portia” could understand me, I would tell her, “Okay, Pretty Lady, no Shakespearean tragedy for you this time.”