I pull into our driveway after a long day and immediately notice a forlorn looking dog in our yard. I park the car and walk slowly towards her. As I approach, she puts her head down submissively. I hold out my hand to her dirty nose. She sniffs. Timidly I scratch under her neck, then behind her ears. There is no collar. I continue to pet her, talking quietly. She seems gentle enough. Her filthy, long, curly white fur indicates she is either lost or abandoned.

Over the next few days, my husband and I search for her owner. We scour the newspaper for lost dog ads, contact humane societies, animal shelters, and veterinarians’ offices, all to no avail. No one seems to be missing a dog.

A visit to the veterinarian tells us she is spayed, has good teeth, and other than being a little underweight, appears quite healthy. He thinks she is a young adult, probably 3 or 4 years old.

We leave the clinic and drive to the doggy spa for a fluff and buff. She reappears, a different dog. She obviously feels better too, as she wags her tail for the first time since we’d met her.

After calling her a hundred or more names to see if she’d respond to any of them, (she didn’t) we finally settle on Mollie. We are smitten; our new dog, this mixed-breed, orphan mutt, is a keeper.   

As weeks turn to months, we get to know one another. She is well-mannered, and housebroken. She follows a few simple commands, such as sit, shake and lie down.  While she seems content, she remains wary of our every move. She keeps a safe distance from our touch whenever possible.

We’re unsure of her too, not knowing what type of temperament to expect. We keep a simple routine each day, in hopes that our consistent behavior builds trust. She devours her food but doesn’t want us nearby. She sleeps under our bed and is afraid of loud noises.  

We visit the city park for a walk and are soon greeted by another dog with its human on a leash. Mollie is looking away, seemingly unaware of their presence. I’m almost knocked off my feet when she suddenly lunges towards the dog, barking viciously, with teeth barred. I’m so startled, I nearly drop her leash. I tug forcefully to keep her away from the smaller dog, apologizing profusely. Every time we meet another dog, she repeats this nasty show with absolutely no provocation. How embarrassing – others glare at me as though I’ve trained her as an attack animal.

I’m troubled; our new dog may be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

It is difficult to explain her outbursts to my husband. He’s only seen this docile, unassuming dog at our home, without other animals around. In time, he too, sees her alter ego emerge and we invest in a choke collar in order to restrain her in public.

Other than these bizarre moments of aggression, Mollie is the perfect pet. As the years go by, she becomes more comfortable with our routine and we learn more about her. She loves company and makes herself a beloved centerpiece of every party we host. When she is in a playful mood, she enjoys chasing sticks, toys and balls; though she doesn’t like to give them back.  

Then one afternoon, we watch in amazement as Mollie runs figure 8 circles in the backyard, at breakneck speed. She performs for several minutes using shrubs, trees, fence posts and garden spots as a maze. She sprints around them as if she is running around a racetrack.

We are stunned; perhaps our dog was once a circus performer. These acts are infrequent, but every now and then, she breaks into an energetic performance as we gape in awe. We have no idea what prompts them, but she strong and athletic, really fun to watch.

Like all dogs, Mollie loves treats. She never begs but is always eager for a handout. As she discovers my weakness, she begins a new trick. She nudges my arm or leg to get my attention. She patiently puts her head on my knee and looks soulfully into my eyes.

If I inquire as to what she wants, she literally dances with her two front paws. She prances before me, and the more eager she gets for the treat, the faster her feet fly. If I don’t immediately move towards the treat jar, she becomes even more insistent with nose nudges and, eventually, a loud, irritating bark.  

I am guilty; our dog is spoiled.

The years fly by and as Mollie enters her senior years, she begins to slow down. Her figure 8 performances only last about a minute and a one-time throw of her favorite ball is exercise enough.

    She is disinterested in other dogs, no longer pouncing at them. Sometimes, when we arrive at the park, if it is too warm or the wind is blowing too strong, she will decide she doesn’t want to go for a walk after all. She lies down and refuses to budge, or pulls me towards the car, eager to get back home. I soon realize that the walking is wearing on her joints. The exercise is just too painful.

We are sad; our dog is growing old.

Each day as I pull into the driveway after a long day, our sweet Mollie welcomes me home. No longer able to run and meet me as I open the car door, she wags her tail in simple greeting. She waits patiently for me to say hello, to caress her head and rub behind her ears. She appears content to be part of our family.

In 2011, we said a tear-filled goodbye to Mollie our precious circus dog. I’m grateful to have known her, and even more to have loved her.

Bobbie Smith Bryant is a native of Calloway County. She currently serves as a Community Development Advisor for the Kentucky League of Cities. She is passionate about western Kentucky and is a freelance writer with four publications: Farming in the Black Patch, A Beautiful Star: the Life of Lois Etoile Brewer, Passions of the Black Patch: Cooking and Quilting in Western Kentucky and Forty Acres and a Red Belly Ford: The Smith Family of Calloway County. For more information about the author, visit bobbiesmithbryant.com.

Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of the Murray Ledger & Times.