No one knows exactly where the black and tan dog came from. All that was known was that he was found trotting down the middle of a dirt road somewhere west of Bozeman, Montana in the spring of 2000. Who knows how long he had been out on his own or how many cars might have gone by him till one finally stopped and offered the dog a ride, delivering him to the Humane Society of Gallatin Valley? The male dog wasn’t big but he wasn’t small either; perhaps, as far as dogs go, he could have been considered large on the medium side of things. His black and tan markings, combined with a calm, confident demeanor, made it clear he had a good helping of Rottweiler in him. He was kept in the stray side of the shelter for the standard five days, yet nobody came looking for the mysterious pup. At the end of the holding period he was moved to the adoption pens and named Adonis, given how handsome all the staff found him. He took to his name as if he was born with it and settled into shelter life with no stress nor concerns.
|Adonis shortly after he arrived at the shelter.
Given that he was a Rott mix, I added him to the list of dogs I walked during my lunch hour, and we quickly became good pals. So much so that, when he was the only Rottie there, I would take him for a drive and a hike, followed by a cheeseburger. For over a year Adonis lived at the shelter with no one showing interest in adopting him. None of us could understand this apparent disinterest because Adonis was intelligent, athletic, and friendly with other dogs and most people. We resigned ourselves to the fact that it had to be the ‘most people’ part that prevented his adoption. You see, I learned quickly that Adonis didn’t like kids, especially if they held something that looked like a weapon. He didn’t become aggressive, he just grew visibly nervous and would give warning barks. It was enough of a concern that we decided to limit which homes he would be allowed to go to. As much as I hoped Adonis would find his forever home, I did enjoy my time with him and, unlike most dogs, his extended stay at the shelter seemed to have no adverse impact on his health nor his mental well-being. Still, I wondered why no one had adopted him.
My answer came in a very unexpected way that summer. On a quiet weekend, in the middle of June, 2001, a vile person attempted to abduct a young girl from a home in Belgrade, a small town just west of Bozeman. The brave young lady was able to stave off her attacker. In frustration, he left her home, only to go to another home from which he abducted a nine-year-old girl, assaulting her and releasing her three hours later. Thankfully, the man was arrested a few days later, but that didn’t quell the fear that had arisen in the county. I knew this because I began receiving several calls a day from people wanting to adopt a Rottweiler in order to increase the security of their homes and families. One call will forever be one I remember. It was the call that I, and Adonis, had been waiting for.
It was the staff at the shelter who called me that day. I had just gotten home from work and was trying to let my dogs out back and prepare their dinner. The staff person told me that a family wanted to adopt Adonis since their daughter was afraid after the recent abduction. I assumed it was like all the rest of the calls that week and asked if the family had young kids. The staff said the family did have young kids and that, in fact, they ran a daycare out of their home. I shook my head as I told the staff that Adonis couldn’t go to a home with small children.
“I know, but the mom is very set on Adonis. Would you just talk with them?” I could hear the frustration in the staff person’s voice. I agreed and waited a moment as the phone was passed to the hopeful family member, a woman who was polite but who also had a confident and intent tone. She explained to me that they felt Adonis would be a good protector for their home. This is not something you want to hear as a rescue person, since it often means the dog will either be relegated to being an outdoor dog or, worse, trained to be aggressive. I resorted to my normal script, explaining that we didn’t adopt out guard dogs.
“Did they explain our situation?” the mom interrupted.
“Yes, they told me that your daughter was afraid after recent events, just like a lot of families are,” I said in a less than sympathetic tone.
“No, our daughter is the one the man first tried to abduct.”
I grasped the gravity of the situation and realized I had put my foot in my mouth a bit with my insensitive attitude. Still, the truth of their situation didn’t change certain unnegotiable items. I explained to the woman that Adonis wasn’t good with kids, to which she quickly replied,
“Really, then why is he here in the lobby with my four kids, playing with them and giving them licks?”
I didn’t know what to say and asked to talk to the staff again, asking if what the mom had said was true. The staff confirmed that it was. I had only one more card to play and that was to let the family know that, because he was a Rottweiler mix, a home check was required prior to adoption. They asked if I could come over that night, to which I agreed. It was apparent that they really wanted Adonis.
When I arrived at their home, I was greeted by the family - mom and dad, three boys, and a very withdrawn girl. Most of my talking was with the parents, and it was then that I began realizing that this home was meant for Adonis. I became fully convinced, however, when I heard that, while at the shelter earlier that day, the young girl had walked down the rows of kennels in the adoption room, stopped at Adonis’ cage and said, “This is the one.” The following is the girl’s own words regarding her first encounter with Adonis:
My first memory of Adonis is easy to recall. He was sitting there. He didn't bark. He looked at me.
And it's like he said, "I've got you". He was behind a chainlink gate in his kennel, and I remember feeling panicked that he was there. I felt my stomach rise in my throat. I knew I had to get him out. It felt like ages until the worker opened the gate and brought him to me. I remember she said, "Sometimes he can pull". I took the leash, and that leads me to my second memory. I remember watching his tail wag as he walked. His black and brown markings swayed from side to side in front of me. But everyone watched in amazement because he wasn't actually pulling on the lead. He was just walking... walking... walking... and then he'd stop and look back, like he was making sure I was still there, or okay. I knew he was mine. I just knew it. I can't describe how I knew, but I felt it, like it was vibrating inside me. And for the first time in three days I felt happy. I felt safe. I knew I wasn't ever going to be in any danger again. Adonis was there for me.
With those new details, Adonis’s exemplary behavior around their children when they visited him at the shelter, and after completing my home check, I approved the adoption.
|Adonis guarding the bed as usual.
In the weeks that followed, I received regular phone calls from the family letting me know how amazing Adonis was. From the moment he had come into their home, he had been the young girl’s shadow. If she went into the bathroom, he laid right outside the door. If she went in her room, he was on the bed with her. For the first few days, they had to keep the hall lights on because Adonis would be aggressive with anyone he couldn’t identify if they dared to climb the stairs. This was all fine with the family, mainly because for the first time since their daughter had nearly been abducted, she felt safe enough to sleep in her own room. She did, after all, have a seventy-five-pound dog as her personal bodyguard now.
The issue of Adonis being bad with kids during his stay at the shelter. Well, that proved to be a non-issue at his new home. Quite the contrary. Instead, he was very protective of them, much to the approval of the parents, including the dad who had decided to chase his kids around his truck acting like a bear. Adonis had rushed out barking and put himself between the dad and the kids, causing the dad to stop his growling as Adonis defended the little ones. Adonis’ owners were, at first, fearful that the dad would be angry. In fact, he was thankful that Adonis was so protective of the kids.
|The best therapist is a loving dog.
For eight years Adonis was not only the guardian of the daycare but he was the ever-present shadow of the girl who had adopted him as she grew into a young woman.
He was medicine for me. For the first time in a while I actually slept in my own room. I was finally motivated to wander away from my parents; I wanted to walk Adonis and I knew I didn't need them to come with me. I took him everywhere. I remember one time my dad took me to Old Navy not too long after the attempted abduction. I took Adonis. He was a companion dog, so he went into the store with us. I ended up losing my dad in the store somehow and the quick panic set in. I felt my blood run hot, my hands became clammy, my breathing was quick, and tears threatened my eyes. I began to try and run, but Adonis stood fast. I stayed with him, knowing he was my support. My Dad came around the corner just a few seconds later.
I was encouraged by my counselors, doctors, mental health professionals, and my parents to try and be as independent as I could and to use my dog as a tool for success, not a reason to seclude myself. I remember one time I had a particularly bad day at school. Kids could be mean, and I was frequently teased for the things that had happened to me. I cried on the bus all the way home. I walked up the driveway, and there he was, looking through the window by the front door. He knew. He knew. He knew. I didn't have to do my homework that night. I didn't have to go to school the next day. I stayed with Adonis and regained my confidence.
When I was going through stuff like this I'd talk to him. I'd ask him why bad things had happened to me. I'd ask him what I did to deserve it. I'd ask him why other kids couldn't just leave me alone. I'd ask him if he understood. Of course, he never spoke back to me, but he always answered. I'd feel calm after our conversations. I'd feel more confident. I'd often follow up a session of burying my face in his fur and sobbing (until he was wet and his fur was stuck to my cheeks) with a pep talk to both of us. I'd say things like, "Together, I can do anything," and, “With your help I'll show those mean kids that they can't hurt me," and, "If it wasn't for you I'd never feel any better". Adonis wasn't just my guardian angel. He was my confidante, my therapy, my companion, and my protector, not just physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
I look back on the times I spent with Adonis, and I realize now that because of him, I learned how to trust again, love again, smile again, hope again, and believe in myself and others again. Most of all, he helped me learn how to live again.
During that time, the girl’s confidence grew, all because she knew Adonis was there. Confidence led to more independence and, finally, to the decision to pursue an education in dance at a school in New York City. The only downside was that she knew Adonis wouldn’t be able to go with her. Still, she really didn’t have much concern as Adonis would stay with the rest of the family and their other dog, Butch. Butch was another Rottweiler mix who, though big, wasn’t the brightest bulb on the tree. Lovable and loyal, Butch was great, but he didn’t have the bond Adonis had with the girl.
With the decision finalized for the girl to go to New York, and only a few weeks before she was to leave, I received a call in the early hours of Easter Sunday. Adonis had fallen ill that weekend and the family had scheduled a surgery for Monday. Sadly, he didn’t make it. Well before dawn, I drove to the home to be with the family, whom I had grown very close to. There, on the floor of the living room, lay Adonis, his duty to the girl finished. His watch was over.
Losing Adonis hurt so badly. I walked around for over a year afterward feeling like I didn't have my right arm, or left foot, or both eyes. I was so broken. But he'd always come back when I needed him. I could feel him, even after getting my Lola girl. When she was still learning, I could tell he was there. Now Lola is gone and I don't feel Adonis as much. Occasionally I do though. Mostly I feel Lola, I feel her all the time, and I miss her dearly, much like I missed Adonis. But I'm in a familiar place. I now have Libby. Libby is still learning. I can still feel Lola. When Libby has learned, just like Adonis passed the torch to Lola, Lola will pass the torch to Libby, and then it will be Libby's turn. Today is the anniversary of Lola's death. It's been two years and I'm feeling her less than I used to but still very frequently. Today, as I mourn Lola, and Libby is sitting beside me, I feel Adonis... my boy... my angel. He's never really gone. He never will be.
Just a few months ago, I went back to court, to a parole hearing, to face the man that tried to end my life. Adonis was there. It was like I could feel him doing his Rottie lean on my leg, and I could feel Lola on my other side, doing the same Rottie lean. With Libby at my side, I stood up to that man. I told him of the good choices I had made in life and let him know that choice is truly the only thing we actually have control over, because choice is the one thing that is truly ours. I really wonder how much of that was Adonis talking...? Adonis taught me how to work through my troubles and make good choices. The man stayed in jail. He will be there for six more years before we go back for another hearing. But thanks to Adonis, I was able to get through those tough early years and to get to these later ones.
After so many years in rescue, I’ve seen things that really can’t be explained, except to attribute them to a higher power. Adonis was one of those. If there ever was a dog who was heaven-sent, who had but one purpose in life, it was Adonis. He came at just the right time, into a terrified young girl’s life and helped her through her darkness. When his job was done, he was called back to the place from where he’d come.
I’m still honored to be friends with that family. The young girl is now a beautiful and amazing woman. One thing, though, hasn’t changed. She always has a Rottweiler mix as her companion and her guardian. Though all dogs are special and fill their purpose, none will ever be Adonis, the dog who was wandering down a lonely dirt road on his way to his destiny.
Adonis was one of several dogs that inspired the character, Stranger, in my first novel. If you would like to know more about my writing efforts then check out my Facebook and Twitter pages or check out my website at www.troykechely.com. My first novel, Stranger's Dance is available through Amazon in both Kindle and paperback and is available in Europe and Asia through the relevant Amazon sites for those regions.