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Columnist
Lost dog turns into longtime companion
By Joni Hirsch Blackman | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 4/12/2008 12:05 AM

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It was almost 26 years ago, but I remember the day clearly.

I was a just-out-of-journalism-school reporter working at a small daily newspaper in Texas -- wonderfully called "The Facts." A co-worker had returned from lunch and told me she'd seen a small dog at the corner of Jackson and Plantation running through traffic. She hoped he was OK.

She described the small terrier dodging cars and I, a childhood "Lassie" and "Benji" fanatic, knew where I was going for my lunch break. I headed straight for that intersection.

I didn't see the dog, so I drove to a gas station at the corner to ask if they'd seen him. "Sure," they said. "He's been hanging around here for a while now. We feed him barbecue from the restaurant next door."

Then I saw the dog, a darling black-and-tan face, matted fur with a long tail. He was friendly, jumping up on me, and I really don't know what possessed me to say, "Can I take him home?"

The gas station guys didn't mind, so I scooped him up with a towel I had in my trunk, put him on the seat next to me and looked at him.

Suddenly, I realized I had a stranger in my car. Isn't youth great? I really didn't think much about that, just that I was finally old enough to bring home a dog if I wanted to, and I wanted to. But I had a half-day of work left and I lived 50 miles away.

The station guy gave me directions to a local veterinarian and I drove straight there. The receptionist asked me what kind of dog it was.

"I'm not sure," I said.

How old is the dog?

"Not sure," I said.

Male or female?

"Hmmm …." Quick check. "Male."

I asked if they could give the dog the necessary shots and check him over to see if he was healthy. Did they offer baths? Thankfully, they did. I also asked them to put the word out that this little guy was lost. Could I pick him up at 5? Sure. Problems solved.

We never did find his owner, even with me being a local reporter and spreading the word that way. We finally found a name (after considering and rejecting "Exxon") when a friend saw him for the first time and said, "That's the scruffiest dog I've ever seen!"

Scruffy lived through the births of three babies and our moves to Colorado, Washington, back to Colorado and then Naperville, where he died after being well loved for nearly 16 years.

We have no idea how old he really was, but various vets believed he was some sort of Australian terrier-mix and, obviously, healthy. He continued to look scruffy, however, until he died.

You can find your Scruffy during the Naperville Area Humane Society's 24-hour Adopt-a-Thon starting at 2 p.m. today. Going to a shelter to adopt an animal gives you a lot more information about the animal than I had about Scruffy.

Though my youthful exuberance worked for us, these days experts suggest considering long and hard before taking a pet into your home. That's good advice.

But the best advice is if you do want a pet, adopt one from a shelter or buy one from a reputable breeder. If you saw the recent "Oprah" show about horrific puppy mills, you'll understand why. If you didn't, check the show's Web site and read more about it.

We bought our current dogs from a breeder who was so responsible we are still in close touch with her 10 years after we got Maysie, just weeks after Scruffy died.

When Maysie was recently seriously ill, our best resource for some of our questions and concerns came from the woman who watched Maysie be born.

As we watched Maysie struggle with illness recently, it reminded me how much we all love her and how much we will miss her someday. Thankfully, that now should be many more years.

We've thought a lot about Scruffy during these weeks as well -- how our kids learned to crawl by chasing his tail, how he used to sit beneath the kids' high chairs to snatch table scraps, how he always refused to fetch, how he used to lick the kids' faces and jump so high to welcome us home.

I can't go to the Adopt-a-Thon or I'd probably return home with a third dog. But if you're looking for a pet, please go. Remember, even the scruffiest-looking ones can be an incredible lifelong pal.

• Joni Hirsch Blackman is a Naperville mom and dog lover who lives on a cul-de-sac. Contact her at jonihb@aol.com.