Title:“ Huck Finn Of The North Fork”
Author: John M. Di Fazio II
Towards the end of last summer, our modest-sized family in our modest-sized home grew unexpectedly. No, it was not the blessing of a third child, it was the determined will of a local stray dog to make our home and our hearts his.
Now, mind you, we already have two wonderful dogs, a Weimaraner named “Winston” whom we had adopted from my cousin and his wife whose child was allergic to dogs, and a Treeing Walker Coon Hound named “Wyatt” whom we adopted from “Last Chance Animal Rescue” at an adoption clinic in front of Petco on Route 58 in Riverhead. Both have wonderful temperaments, are great companions to my wife and I, and our two daughters, and are inseparable friends to each other. When we first adopted Winston, we already had an American Bulldog named “Mika”. The American Bulldog is one of my favorite breeds and I have always wanted one. My wife chose eight week old Mika as my Christmas present. She was a tiny girl, pure white with a tan patch over her eye. She grew and she grew, and became eighty-five pounds of lean muscle, a regal example of a rare breed. She was stunning, and looked like a champion. She and my youngest daughter came to share an amazing bond. Mika was my daughter’s living pillow, her stability when she was learning to walk, her ultimate friend, and her brave, unflinching guardian.
Sadly, as rare breeds often have a shallow gene pool, Mika, as strong and indestructible as she appeared, had a rapid and aggressive bone cancer that claimed her life at the youthful age of five. We were heart-broken, especially my daughter, who had become Mika’s best friend, and Winston, who was still a puppy at the time.
The spring following that winter, my wife and daughters called me from outside of Petco and asked me to meet them there. That day, Wyatt became part of our family. Winston and Wyatt even sounded good together, two huntin’ dogs who together would be a great running team for my wife. And so it was, our family, complete, two beautiful daughters, and two amazing, obedient dogs. That’s it, I thought, after experiencing the Bully breeds, Mika, and before her, Kayla, our Rottweiler and “old girl”, who had met Mika as a puppy and was motherly to her, passing the torch in a way, a connection between each dog, almost with a sense of lineage. As much as I loved them, and as great as the breeds are, they were the most hard-headed, stubborn dogs, as most in the Bully breeds are. These hound dogs, however, were a whole new experience. The Hunting breeds have shown me total, one-command obedience, loyalty, and a want-to-please attitude that was so foreign to what I had previously experienced. This is it, I thought-done! From now on, it’s huntin’ dogs only ‘round here!
A year went by and all was well. Winston and Wyatt had really bonded. They were fantastic running partners for my wife, playful with the kids, great watchdogs, and were even good with our eight chickens. Over the course of that year, several neighbors had brought to our attention that they had seen our American Bulldog running on her own across the farm, in a backyard, or on the road. We quickly explained to them that our Mika had passed away the year before, and that it must just be some other dog.
As the fates would have it, as rare as the breed is, it was an American Bulldog, just not our American Bulldog. It was a male, about seventy pounds, who had been abandoned and was living out in hay barns, and was being fed by many caring people in the neighborhood. He was roughing it, surviving, living off the land, and on his own. From what we’ve been told, he was on his own for the entire winter.
One day, my wife was running with Winston and Wyatt. It was their usual routine, except this time they were being followed. It was the American Bulldog. My wife was fearful that he might be aggressive towards our dogs. She yelled at him to go away, but he persisted and followed them all the way home. She put Winston and Wyatt into the backyard for their safety, and went inside. This American Bulldog was now outside in our front yard and was barking to get in. My wife and I went outside and yelled at him to leave. He ran across the street, and then as we went inside, he returned and continued barking for our dogs. This went on for quite some time, until that is, he jumped our fence and began playing with our dogs. “He’s in the backyard,” yelled my wife.
He looked so much like Mika. He had the same tan patch over his eye, the same tail, and yes, the same stubbornness. We could not believe how playful he was. Our dogs welcomed him in like they had always known him.
Remarkably, he was pretty clean for a stray who’d been out as long as he had. His coat looked good except for his dirty paws, which earned him the nickname “ Huck Finn”, or “ Finn” as my wife calls him.
Each day, he’d follow my wife and our boys on their run, and return, eat, drink, play, and at night, sleep in our backyard. He was surely an “outside dog”, and we didn’t mind him sleeping in our yard. On one of her runs, my wife encountered an employee of the nearby dog pound. She explained that she had been trying to catch Finn over the course of the year, but was unable to. She explained that a local animal rescue called “ R.S.V.P.” even hired a professional tracker to capture the dog, but even he had failed. My wife volunteered to run Finn into the pound gates the next time that she was to run. So, on the next run, as she was approaching the pound, the pound employee opened the gate, and my wife ran our dogs in with Finn following behind. The gate was closed behind them and it seemed like mission accomplished. However, Finn had other ideas. Finn, the strong, stubborn dog that he is, busted through the gate and took off, running. My wife instructed the employee to meet at our backyard, where she knew Finn would comfortably enter. The pound employee, my wife, and I could not catch him either. He evaded us and he jumped the fence. He returned later when the coast was clear. R.S.V.P. found out that Finn was living in our yard and came to visit to witness the “ uncatchable “ Huckleberry Finn “ at home ” in our backyard, playing with our children and our dogs. Connie, Susan, and Kelly who volunteer for R.S.V.P. suggested that he looked like he was here to stay. And we explained that we were really not in a position to have a third dog. Vet bills and food are expensive enough for two large dogs. We did not want another mouth to feed. Connie, Susan, and Kelly suggested that R.S.V.P. could treat Finn as a temporary foster dog and help out with the food and shots. We said he was welcome to live in our backyard and that we would care for him. His fear of people makes him unadoptable, but we continue to work with him and earn his trust.
Everyone has been so amazed by Finn and the progress that he has made. He’s still “stand-offish” with adults, but my girls are able to pet him and play with him. My wife is now able to harness him for the runs, and get him in the car for a drive. As the cooler weather approached, with patience and time, we were able to coax him to come inside, and thank goodness for that because we ended up experiencing Hurricane Sandy, a cold snowy winter, and even an unusually cold spring. There was Finn, curled up with Winston and Wyatt by the wood burning stove, feeling “ at home “ and a part of a family, or at least a pack. I can tell by the now calm look in his eyes that he is in some way settled down. He is still a free spirit and an adventurer like his namesake, but he has a home and I can feel his appreciation. He stays, but is always free, no collar, no tags, for he loves his freedom, like all great Americans. This American Bulldog named Finn,
“ Huck Finn of the North Fork “ has won not only our hearts, but the hearts of many, and has filled the empty void of the early passing of our original American Bulldog, as if God intended it for us.