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OPINION | PHILIP MARTIN: Little Audi's night terrors

by Philip Martin | May 2, 2021 at 8:36 a.m.

There was a storm the other night, and Audi started shivering.

Karen lifted her from the foot of the bed and put her down between us, and we each laid our hands over her trembling 12-pound body. Lightning flicked off and on and I slept off and on. And when I woke completely, the skies were gray, Karen was in the garage doing her exercises, and Audi was sprawled across my chest, warm and breathing easy.

And so I laid there longer than I should have, listening to the drizzle and scratching the head of the little dog who found us, this little beast who trusts me so.

We believe Audi is 8 years old; we've assigned her a birthday of May 5, which coincides with the birthday of Paris and Dublin, who we reckon were actually born within a few days of that date in 2008.

We suspect Audi is a puppy mill Schnauzer with crudely docked ears. (It doesn't hurt her looks. She looks a little bear-cubbish.) A veterinarian who checked Audi for a microchip after she came into our custody theorized the puppy mill people assumed she was worthless after the bad ear job and dumped her in our old neighborhood, probably directly in front of a mansion owned by people who are known for taking in stray dogs.

But before they found Audi she trotted down the street to another neighbor. She rubbed against his leg like a cat and licked his knee. He thought she was our Dublin (a reasonable assumption; they do resemble each other) and tried to bring her to us.

But we weren't home. So our across-the-street neighbor looked at Audi, and said she didn't think she was Dublin, but that she couldn't be sure. So she called Karen at work to tell her that maybe she had our dog who had maybe gotten out of our yard.

Karen rushed home and saw that Audi was not Dublin. But she was grateful to our neighbor and said she would take it upon herself to find the owner of the dog who would become our Audi.

After a couple of days of trying, it became apparent to us that no one was trying to find the dog, who by then was Audi. We called her that because while we wanted to continue the conceit of naming dogs after European cities, we couldn't think of a German city that sounded right. "Berlin" was too serious and too much like "Dublin." I suggested "Dusseldorf" but that didn't feel right either. Munich, Essen, Bonn--Bonny?

Finally Karen said "Audi," and it sounded right. It fit. Even though it was temporary.

If you have dogs you might agree that two are no more bother than one, but having three complicates things. We loved Paris and Dublin and worried that they mightn't accept a new dog. They were sisters and had little interest in playing with other dogs at the dog park. We were a tight clique. Audi might be better off elsewhere.

Still, we had her spayed and microchipped and got her shots. She was such a sweet animal. We knew someone would love her dearly. Within a couple of weeks we found her a home. So Audi got a new name and went off to northwest Arkansas.

That didn't work out. There was a misunderstanding between the woman who adopted Audi and her landlord -- she could have one dog (she had one before Audi) but not two. And then one day Audi bolted out her door and ran off into the woods. She was gone for a few hours, but eventually returned.

We had asked her to return Audi to us if for any reason she decided she couldn't keep her. So she tearfully called and asked if we would take her back. Of course we would. We even had a back-up person who wanted to adopt Audi.

So the next weekend she drove Audi back to Little Rock. We agreed to meet in the parking lot of the Riverdale shopping center; it was during the Little Rock Film Festival being held at the theater there.

When she drove into the parking lot, I saw Audi in the back seat. Then she saw us and started scrabbling at the window and barking joyfully.

I remember that handoff well; Karen snuggled the little dog and went on to a screening at the film festival. I drove Audi up the hill to our house and re-introduced her to Paris and Dublin. I was nervous about this meeting; our girls had tolerated Audi during her earlier stay, but had not exactly warmed to her. They would make the final decision on whether Audi could stay with us or would move on to an apartment in Houston.

I brought her in. The sisters walked up to her calmly and sniffed. Then all three ran out the dog door into the backyard.

If you know anything about dogs, you know every dog is an individual, with a particular set of aptitudes and aspirations. Dublin is a warrior princess; Paris is a grande dame; Audi is especially attuned to the emotional weather of human beings. She was a therapy dog before we got her certified as one. She beams her face at children and park bench-sitters. She needs only a hint of an invitation to leap into a stranger's lap.

She is an engine of love. She is also a little mad.

A fear of storms is something lots of animals share, but there is something else with her. A few years ago, before we moved to our new house, she was sometimes disassociating, staring blankly off into space, during the early evening hours. I'd try to call her in for supper, and she wouldn't move and I'd have to go out and find her, usually sitting frozen, catatonic between the chain-link fence and her favorite tree. Twice she hid under the deck, in tight spaces we couldn't reach without prying up boards.

We've been in our new house two years now. Audi has a small dog run instead of a quarter-acre to hide in. Once or twice a week, at dinnertime, I'll find her in her corner outside, huddled against the house. Sometimes trembling, sometimes shaking violently. I carry her in and swaddle her on the couch. Sometimes she stays, sometimes she bolts upstairs to hide.

It usually lasts about an hour. Then we get our Audi back. She trots out to share our dessert. If Dublin isn't in the leather chair, she might jump into it. She might join us on the couch. But she's a little girl and gets tired after a while. She slips off to bed.

An hour later I come in to find her draped across my pillow, dreaming canine dreams, trusting in the benevolence of these strange two-legged creatures, whose species author hate and heartbreak and horrors beyond the imaginings of little dogs terrorized by thunder.

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