OHIO VALLEY — Never underestimate the power of kindness.
Back around 2005, when I was a reporter with The Daily Sentinel in Pomeroy, Ohio, I began to notice a shaggy dog wandering the downtown streets. She was definitely a mixed breed though she appeared to have the dominate features of a collie. Her thick fur was often matted, her tail always tucked between her legs as she scurried at a good clip along Pomeroy’s sidewalks and parking lots. She never lifted her head to make eye contact, often sleeping in parking lots on Second St., finding shelter under cars or an old shed behind Sugar Run Mill.
I would leave packages of hot dogs in the parking lots for this dog, often finding someone else had been there as well, leaving opened bags of dog food or other treats. Treats actually played a big part in the shaggy dog’s story. Each day as she quickly made her way through the streets of downtown Pomeroy, she followed the same route and along this route, eventually found dog biscuits left by Rhonda Riebel who worked at Nationwide Insurance on Second Street.
Rhonda would watch the dog walk her route each day near her office and leave goodies for it until one day Rhonda decided to stand along the path, holding a dog treat. As the story goes, the dog rounded the corner to collect her treat only to find Rhonda, standing there holding it. With some coaxing, the dog took the treat from Rhonda’s hand and hurried along her way. This was a huge moment for the shaggy dog who took a chance on kindness and therefore trust.
As the days went by, Rhonda and the shaggy dog would meet on the route, exchanging “hellos” and treats. The dog began to expect Rhonda each day and would be waiting outside Nationwide Insurance early each morning, watching for her new friend. Just down the street from Nationwide, the shaggy dog began to make friends with those in the Meigs County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, namely Donna Boyd who said one day former Prosecuting Attorney Pat Story was standing outside his office with the dog. Pat asked the dog, now renamed Shaggy by Donna, if she wanted to come inside and Shaggy surprised everyone by doing just that. Shaggy began spending her days in the prosecuting attorney’s office, going on afternoon walks with Donna as she traveled through the Meigs County Courthouse on official business. Without being on a leash, Shaggy led Donna to each office on every floor of the courthouse, learning which ones Donna visited and which ones gave her treats.
Shaggy got cheese from the auditor’s office, peanut butter from the treasurer’s office, more cheese from the recorder’s office and a drink of water from the clerk of court’s office. The auditor’s office even pitched in and bought her a dog bed to sleep on at the prosecuting attorney’s office. For years, several courthouse employees had become attached to Shaggy even though they couldn’t get near her, watching and worrying as the dog darted in and out of traffic, somehow remaining unscathed all those years.
Carolyn Grueser of Pomeroy had known Shaggy before she ended up downtown, saying she remembered the dog in the Lincoln Heights area of Pomeroy. She said Shaggy was tied up with another dog in her neighborhood and the owners decided to move and not take the animals. Neighbors in Lincoln Heights finally got near enough to the dogs to get them off the chains but they were too skittish to trust people and ran off. No one knows what became of Shaggy’s yard mate.
Having been abandoned and likely abused are not easy things to overcome for dog or human for that matter, though Shaggy, and an entire community, proved kindness can provide the salve and the path.
As she was shown more kindness, Shaggy showed more trust, even letting Donna, Rhonda and Gloria Kloes from the county commission office, give her a bath and untangle her mats. Underneath all those clumps was a beautiful, loving dog who no longer walked with her tail between her legs.
Eventually other businesses began to take care of Shaggy too, like the crew of a “cash ‘til payday” business who took care of her in the evenings and on Saturdays after most other businesses were closed. Jenny Shirley, who now works at Peoples Federal Credit Union in Point Pleasant, used to manage the payday place, and would often take Shaggy to McDonalds to get her favorite treat — a cheeseburger.
Even some of the employees at the Pomeroy branch of Farmers Bank purchased a dog house for Shaggy and placed it behind the Meigs County Courthouse which had become her second home. She was eventually asked to be Pomeroy’s first four-legged grand marshal for its Christmas parade. At the time, according to parade organizer Toney Dingess, Shaggy was chosen because she was the perfect example of what a little love can do.
Eventually, Shaggy started to become known as the Pomeroy “town dog” and though she had a lot of people who loved her, she had no real home.
At that time, I was working several late evenings, and I would see Shaggy on the streets of Pomeroy, patiently waiting on her special people to return for work. I used to think the evenings and nights must be a lonely time for her when she realized she was alone again and how being alone is easier to do when you’re used to it — she wasn’t used to it anymore.
She often would sit on her perch on the hill overlooking the statue of the Civil War solider next to the courthouse. I would sit with her, giving her treats and petting her — for me, it was a nice break after a long day. These visits went on for several months, and I started letting her ride in my car to pickup her McDonalds cheeseburger each night. After we picked up dinner, I’d drop her off behind the courthouse, give her her dinner and drive off, until one night, after may nights, she started to chase my vehicle as I began to drive home.
I didn’t expect her to choose me as her human, and I had some cats I knew would not be thrilled with a dog in the house. That night she chose me, I was sitting in my car, looking at the glow of my red taillights on Shaggy’s eager face waiting for me to make my decision — to show her kindness and more importantly, to recognize it being bestowed upon me. After all, what greater kindness is there than to show love? I realized how far this dog had come, how far I had come in my life and how we both had redefined our lives in various ways, though that is a story for another day. It seemed like the perfect match and five years later, it remains that perfect decision.
Shaggy now lives in West Virginia with me though her ties to Meigs County and the community who cared enough to save her are still strong. Last year, when Shaggy had a stroke, several of Shaggy’s friends in the courthouse took up a collection for her to be used for cheeseburger purchases. I’m told people who stop in at The Daily Sentinel, another of Shaggy’s favorite haunts, still ask about her, as well. It seems the once forgotten dog is not forgotten.
Though Shaggy recovered from her stroke, she has had a tough year and is much frailer though still full of forgiveness for what her life was before she came to know kindness again. I believe her capacity to love was never unlearned, it was just waiting on the right people and the right circumstance — just like the rest of us.