I was out jogging down a dirt road in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when I realized I had company. A gray husky with big brown eyes had suddenly appeared and was running along with me. I stopped and told her to “go home,” but she just looked up at me. I kept going and so did she. On my doorstep I checked her frayed collar; no tags. I gave her ears a rub, told her to “go home” again, and went inside. I figured she lived somewhere in the neighborhood.
But the next morning I opened the door to get the paper and she bounded up to greet me. My husband Ed and I gave her some food and water, and then checked the local shelter. She didn’t match any missing dog descriptions, so we placed a “found dog” notice in the local paper. A week went by and no one called. Another week, and we began to hope no one would. And no one ever did.
So, we named her Annie, Orphan Annie. Her origins remained a mystery. Huskies do have a reputation for escaping and running for miles, but this dog seemed a homebody. She crawled into my lap when I sat reading. As we drove around, she sat on the backseat, chin resting on my shoulder. We soon became a devoted threesome.
A few years after Annie found us, we moved to San Francisco for new jobs. It took a while to find an apartment that would accept a dog, but we eventually found a second-floor unit in a building owned by an Italian family. Two brothers, Louie and Guido, managed the place, and their sister Louise—“Mrs. Costello” to us—a widow in her 80s, lived in the house next door. The back yards of the apartment building and her house joined, and in no time, Annie was trotting down our back stairs and over to greet Mrs. Costello, who was often sitting on her deck, reading or knitting.
Annie and Mrs. Costello hit it off immediately. As we were getting ready to go to work, Annie headed down the back stairs, looking for Mrs. Costello, dropping her tennis ball in the elderly woman’s lap.
“You can leave her with me all day,” Mrs. Costello soon told us. “She likes visiting.” Indeed, she did. When I looked out, I’d often see the two of them, the landlady in her housedress, tossing the ball, Annie bounding through the yard after it. Sometimes the two of them just sat dozing.
Since Ed and I were both busy, often working long and unpredictable hours, we felt pretty lucky we never had to worry about our dog’s care. Whoever got home first would whistle and Annie would trot back upstairs.
“My sister sure loves that dog,” Guido told us, as he was working on our kitchen faucet one day. “They have quite a time together.” Our threesome had become a foursome.
But one day Annie was moping alone on our back porch and I looked down to see Mrs. Costello’s deck chair empty. We asked Louie and Guido about her, only to learn she’d been taken to the hospital. When we next saw the brothers, they said she was doing better and would soon be moved to a rehab facility. We sent her some flowers. Next day, the brothers knocked on our door.
“What she really wants,” said Guido, “is Annie.”
“Yes,” said Louie, “she wants you to bring her for a visit.”
I had my doubts I could take a dog into a nursing facility, but they assured me their sister had it all worked out. So, I said okay.
When the day came, I gave Annie a good brushing and drove to the address the brothers had provided. I walked in cautiously, Annie on her leash. Louie and Guido met me in the lobby, and said their sister was in the dining room.
“Come on in,” said Guido. Mrs. Costello was sitting at a table by herself and threw her hands in the air when she saw Annie, who began tugging frantically on the leash to get to her.
“Louie, Guido, pull up a chair,” Louise said, petting Annie and cooing. “Pull her up a chair.”
“Oh, I’m fine, thanks,” I said.
“No, no, a chair for Annie,” said Mrs. Costello. Guido slid one into place and Annie hopped up. She sat politely as Mrs. Costello speared some meat on a fork and fed it to her. I figured for sure we’d be tossed out, but a small crowd soon gathered.
“This is Annie,” said Mrs. Costello proudly, smiling at the assembled. “This is my friend Annie.” Annie went on to have green beans and a chunk of dinner roll.
“You should see what she eats at home,” Mrs. Costello said. “Her favorite is stuffed zucchini.”
“And don’t forget prosciutto and tortellini,” said Louie.
“See what I’ve taught her,” said Mrs. Costello. She put a piece of roll in front of Annie and said, “Wait.” Annie waited. Then Mrs. Costello tapped her fingers on the table and Annie picked up the bread.
“Oh, she’s such a good, smart girl,” said Mrs. Costello, beaming with pride. I began to have a glimmer of what a rich, double life our dog had been leading.
Soon after our visit, Mrs. Costello returned home and she and Annie resumed their daily routine, the most devoted of companions. Next door, in our own apartment, things weren’t going so well. Our relationship was faltering and Ed soon moved out. We agreed to share Annie.
While I went to work, Annie still spent most of her days next door. On the weekends, Ed would pick her up. Eventually, I too, had to move away. I dreaded giving that news to Mrs. Costello. But one evening after work, I went over to her deck, where she and Annie were hanging out as usual, and told her I was going to move.
“It’s not far away,” I said, “and I can bring Annie over for visits. In fact, she can stay with you all day sometimes.” Mrs. Costello sat silent, her hand on Annie’s head.
“Really, I’ll bring her back, and I’ll give you my number so you can call anytime,” I told her.
“Oh dear,” was all she said.
I slunk away, feeling awful, and got on with the details of moving. On the last day in my apartment, I went down to Mrs. Costello’s deck, gathered Annie, and we said our goodbyes.
“Oh, Annie,” said Mrs. Costello, her voice catching, as I led Annie off the deck. She blew a kiss and waved.
I stayed busy over the next few days, unpacking, getting settled, walking Annie in our new neighborhood. I had it on my mind to call Mrs. Costello as soon as I finished and take Annie back for a visit. But there are things you can’t fix no matter how sorry you are.
A week later, when I picked up the phone, Ed sounded distraught. “I just heard a terrible thing,” he said. “I ran into Louie.” I waited. “Mrs. Costello died.”
Annie lived to be 16, a loving companion until the end. After she was gone, I hung her collar on a tree outside my window. I still can’t look at it without remembering Mrs. Costello, her hand raised in a frail farewell.