The Dog Who Saved a Family

By Don Mills Diva, November 2008

I got my father a dog for Christmas because I desperately needed help.

It was almost a decade ago. My parents and I were suffering terribly as a result of an estrangement from my only sibling and his family and I just couldn’t handle Christmas alone.

I had only been dating my Rob for a few months and he wasn’t yet a regular fixture at holidays. No matter how hard I tried, and believe me I tried, I wasn’t big enough or loud enough or entertaining enough to fill the hole they left. I just couldn’t take up enough space.

I needed a dog.

My parents, my dad especially, have always adored dogs. Two mutts had the run of the house throughout my childhood and the younger had finally died at eighteen years of age the previous summer.

Mom felt sure Dad was ready for another and gave her blessing for me to pick one out at The Toronto Humane Society and surprise him with it at Christmas. Get a smaller dog, she advised. Something sweet and low-maintenance.

And that’s what I intended, I swear.

But we can’t help who or what we fall in love with.

A pit bull-German Shepherd-Doberman mix (we think), he had been living at the shelter for more than three months. There was a letter taped to his cage, written as if by him, begging someone to give him a chance. I gathered from the shelter staff that his days were numbered.

I had to have him.

I took him home to my little downtown house and while he wildly raced around and around I called my mom to advise her that I found a dog that was a little different from what we discussed, but nonetheless, perfect.

And he was perfect, in his way. From the moment a few days later when I dropped him onto my blindfolded Dad’s lap and shouted Merry Christmas!, he was a perfect diversion from the sadness that back then hung like a heavy cloud in my parent’s house.

Hercules became his name and he was incorrigible. He chewed everything he could find. He climbed the kitchen table and gobbled bread baskets and pounds of butter. He ate a whole raw chicken my mother was prepping and threw it up an hour later. He was so excitable that a playful tone of voice would send him bouncing on all four legs, three or feet into the air. He was so hyper that my father was often forced to wrestle him to the ground, hold him there and coo softly in his ear, imploring him to relax and calm down.

Hercules did calm down as time went on. He became intimately attached to my father. He insisted on sitting on his lap, burrowing into chest and tucking his head under his chin and to this day he wails and cries like a baby when left alone. Dad takes him everywhere; flying him into his fishing camp and letting him ride shotgun in his pick-up truck on morning coffee runs when he is treated to a donut hole daily.

Everywhere they go people stop them. “What kind of dog is that?” they say. “That’s the weirdest looking dog I’ve ever seen.”

And Dad puts his hands over Herc’s ears. “Don’t listen to them Hercie.” he says. “You’re a fine-looking dog.”

It seems silly to make some kind of dramatic proclamation or put a cheesy movie-of-the-week title to this story, a la The Dog Who Saved A Family!

But in a lot of ways I think he did.

Hercules made us laugh and gave us something to talk about that Christmas and we needed that. In the days that followed he made my parent’s house a noisy place to be, a busy place to be and they needed that even more.

He gave my parents something to focus on during a very dark period of their life. He was so grateful for their love, so overjoyed to be in their presence, so friendly and accepting of everything and everyone in their world that it was impossible not to be infected by his happiness.

And when the rift with my brother and his children began to mend Hercules and his boundless energy was there to break the ice and relieve the tension: no one could refuse him a smile, no one was unmoved by his enthusiasm.

Today my parent’s house, being on the lake, is a gathering place for my family and friends and my brother and his children and their friends. Summers especially are a whirlwind of flying and boating and barbecues and laughter and fun.

Hercules is there too of course. Old and grey and grizzled now, he’ll join in the fun if asked, but mainly sticks close to my father’s side. And in my typical, cheesy, movie-of-the-week way I’ll always think of them both as the glue that continues to keep our home and our family together.


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