Old deceiver

One night last August my family and I were returning from dinner in a restaurant, on the Maine island which is our summer home. At a juncture of two roads we had agreed to stop, so that we might say goodnight to friends who had been dining with us and who, being strangers, needed guidance toward their lodging.

As our car came to a halt, we noticed in the moonless dark the hulk of an unusually large dog. It appeared to move uncertainly on its stiffened legs, and staggered off the roadway just in time to escape an oncoming car. Here was a beast obviously in need of help, we thought. We tried coaxing it into the rear of our station wagon with the thought that we might somehow rescue it from what seemed impending disaster. The dog was friendly enough; indeed it seemed affectionate and grateful. But it could not, of its own power, jump or crawl into the back of our car; and my son, after first trying to lift the huge weight , thought it wise to desist. A single snap of that obviously flustered and bewildered animal could have done considerable damage.

So we motored on, troubled in spirit, and on reaching home immediately called the police. We described the scene and the dog's predicament. To our surprise, the police seemed entirely familiar with the situation, and assured us that the dog would be promptly returned to its owner.

The incident passed from mind -- though somewhere in my own consciousness there remain a sense of mystery. Why had the police taken our tale so much for granted? And why did this normally unfeeling agency of the law respond in so humane, not to say so sentimental, a fashion? Then at a friend's house a few nights later, on the far side of the island, the tardiness of one of the guests was remarked upon. perhaps she had forgotten the invitation, it was suggested. Was she not very apt to be absent-minded or late?

The guest turned up in due course, to unfold a story in very detail recalling our earlier experience: the same vision of a huge dog staggering about in the drk (only now in a quite different and more distant location); the same impulse to protect the beast from what appeared a certain doom. She, however, had actually got the dog into her car. And so we all went out to see the Alaskan malamute, friendly and obviously pleased with itself, filling with its enormous bulk every corner of the vehicle's interior.

The rest of the story really belongs to my wife who was stimulated into doing some research and writing for the Bar Harbor Times -- an excellent journalistic account of the dog's nature and background. It seems its first years had been spent upon the Alaskan tundra; brought down to Maine, it had been in its youth a confirmed wanderer and explorer. But as the years accumulated the dog found its capacities to travel limited; it suffered a hip injury that might have confined ti to the front yard of its owners, but something in that indomitable spirit still urged it on; and Nahoo, as the owners related, became famous for finding ways to get itself transported to fresh scenes or to festive human occasions.

Once, by means not wholly traceable, it had turned up on another island. Yearly it visited the winter carnival of the Lions Club. Always it managed to entice someone into transporting it, and after a certain time it was unfailingly brought back to its owners.

"By the side of the road," says the accoung in the Bar Harbor Times, "she assumes the look of a dog bewildered and lost, appealing for help. Hearts normally immune to lost dogs melt at the sight of this Alaskan huskie, disabled and helpless. . . . Cleverly she knows how to stagger across the road, seemingly unable to cope with traffic which, on the way to the appointed spot, she has avoided quite skillfully. . . . After many caresses and much coaxing, satisfied that mutually friendly rapport has been established, she climbs into the car and embarks on some new journey."

Nahoo, it appears, is something of a fake -- an endearing fake and an old deceiver. No doubt, as she lies before the fire looking for all the world like a contented hound, she is planning some new escapade. Her owners, however, are forgiving, and some passing motorist is always ready to be taken in.

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