She was just an old golden retriever. Her name was Brandy, and for eleven years she was the sole companion of an elderly woman who lived in a bungalow colony in the country. Neighbors often saw the two of them together in the garden. The woman would be hunched over picking flowers and there was that old dog, close at her heels or lying in the middle of the grass watching her pull weeds. When the woman died, some relatives came and collected anything they thought was valuable and put a “For Sale” sign on the front lawn. Then they locked the dog out and drove away.
Some of the neighbors left food out for Brandy, but mostly the dog stayed near the house that she knew and waited for her owner to come back. A young mother who lived next door noticed the old retriever, but she had never been around animals before and while she thought the dog was friendly enough, she didn’t feel it was any of her concern.
However, when the dog wandered into her yard and began playing with eighteen-month-old Adam, she wanted to shoo the dirty thing away. Adam was her only child and the light of her life. But he was having so much fun feeding Brandy cookies she decided to let her stay. After that, whenever Adam had cookies Brandy came by to visit.
One afternoon, the boy’s mother left Adam in the soft grassy yard to play while she answered the phone. When she returned he was gone. Just gone. The mother was frantic. Neighbors came over to help in the search. Police arrived and looked for three hours before calling in the state police and helicopters to do an extensive aerial search. But no one could find the child, and as the sun set over the horizon, whispers of abduction, injury or even death crept into conversations.
The search had been going on for six hours when a neighbor, who’d just returned home, wondered where Brandy was. Adam’s mother, hysterical with worry, didn’t understand why anyone was asking about the old dog at a time like this.
When someone suggested she might be with Adam, a trooper recalled hearing a dog barking deep in the woods when they were doing a foot search. Suddenly, everybody started calling for Brandy.
They heard faint barking and followed the sound until they found the toddler, standing up fast asleep, pressed against the trunk of a tree. That old dog was holding him there with one shoulder as one of her own legs dangled over a thirty-five-foot drop to a stream below.
Brandy had followed Adam when he wandered off. When she saw danger, she’d pushed him out of harm’s way and held him safe for all those hours, even as the child struggled to get free.
As soon as the rescue team picked up Adam, the old dog collapsed. A trooper carried Adam back home, while his mother, sobbing with relief, carried Brandy. She was so grateful to the old golden retriever that Brandy spent the rest of her days with them. Brandy lived to the ripe old age of seventeen.
But this story doesn’t end with just one life saved. In Brandy’s honor, Adam’s mother, Sara Whalen, founded Pets Alive, a rescue sanctuary in New York that takes in unwanted animals, including those designated to be euthanized because they are old, blind, incontinent or perhaps not cute enough to be adopted. While she can’t save them all, Sara feels comforted that she can help at least some of them. She knows that if someone had put that old retriever to sleep, she could have easily lost the light of her life: her son.
Today, thirty years later, there are more than three hundred animals in her care, including birds, potbellied pigs, old horses retired from the carriage business and unadoptable pets from rescue groups across the country. The woman who used to think an old, abandoned dog wasn’t any of her concern found that every life has value and has become a beacon for thousands of animals in need.
By Audrey Thomasson