The dog I was not supposed to feed

In a loving tribute to a lab named Snowy, what it's like when canine companions adopt us versus the other way around.


By Ranae Brabham


And there she was, this 3- or 4- month-old golden-eyed-lab at the bottom of my steps.


I looked out of my window as steam curled up from the steaming potatoes draining in the colander. Snowy sat on the porch, her head held high as she sniffed the crisp air. The brilliant morning sun almost made her look white. I'd almost forgotten she had gone outside. Earlier she had walked right past me and to the door, it wasn't a request to go to the bathroom, she just wanted to watch the sun come up. I turned the burners down on the stove, grabbed my tea and went out into the chilly morning with her.


The morning we met was a lot like this one so many sunrises ago. I sat on back porch steps in North Carolina, cigarette in one hand and cup of coffee in the other. I heard my neighbors screen door slap and then heard a bounding across the field. And there she was, this 3- or 4- month-old golden-eyed-lab at the bottom of my steps. I patted the step next to me, she came right up and sat while I rubbed her back. Before I finished my coffee, I heard the neighbors hollering for her. "Snowy, Snowy, get back over here!" They couldn't see us, but I told her to go on home before she got in trouble.


Snowy and Don



Feed them and they will stay.


The next day, the same and the next... I would send her on her way when they called. I wasn't happy that this sweet dog had happened into the household she did. They weren't nice people. And I could hear Snowy yelp when she would go back over there, as if they had hit or kicked her. I told Don about the dog and how she came to see me every morning and just sat with me on the steps. She didn't look hungry, but Don knew me well, so the first thing he said was "Don't feed her, she'll want to stay." One Saturday morning while Snowy and I were having our morning vices I heard Don get up and I brought her in to meet him. He was instantly smitten with her but cautiously advised, "She's not yours, be careful not to get too attached." Too Late.


One day my oldest granddaughter who was 3 at the time, rolled in the grass with Snowy in our yard. Her owner called her and Snowy left reluctantly. Then she was kicked at the top of the steps. Abby cried. "Gwanma, do sumptin." Just a few days later I heard the neighbors fighting. A little while afterwards, Snowy's owner came over to the house and knocked on the door. Snowy sat at his feet. He told me that he and his girlfriend were leaving, and they weren't going to be able to take Snowy with them. He asked if I would like to have her. I could barely contain myself and took her straight into the house. And — I fed her. And I haven't stopped feeding for 18 years.


Snowy and Don



Snowy stayed as long as she could.


Feed them and they will stay. I have a history it seems of doing that. As a child, I would keep bread crust, chicken skins or whatever I didn't want to eat balled up in my hand to sneak outside and feed the animals. When I was 8, I had at least a dozen cats. Of course, I couldn't call them my cats, at least not in the company of the adults. Although they were all outside, they didn't venture far from me. One eyed cats, starving side winding cats, big mouth Tom cats that wailed like wild banshee’s during the night and pregnant cats. You would think that I would grow up to be a cat lady, although I did have a few cats in my adult life that were brought home by our children who heard the same mantra. "Don't feed them."


"What's your secret to a long life Snowy?" I asked her out loud this morning as I rubbed the scruff of her neck. I imagined she would say two square meals and a Milkbone a day. But I know mostly that it is love and gratitude. A whiff of pot roast from inside reminded me that there was a pot to stir. Don will be up soon rubbing his belly. Food is what brought Don and I together as well. Fried chicken to be exact. I fed him then and 39 years later I'm still feeding him, but I suspect it's more than that too. Feed them and they will stay. Snowy stayed as long as she could. 18 years almost to the day she adopted us. That's 6,570 Milkbones in snack servings.