It’s been a while since we posted a story involving dogs that had the potential to, you know, make the room a little dusty. We’re overdue. So here’s Neil Gaiman to tell you about his dog, Cabal, which he rescued from the side of a rural highway back in 2007.
On the way home from the recording, driving through the rain, just as I pulled off the freeway to head home, I saw a large, pale dog on the side of the sliproad. I went in a couple of seconds from a first glance thought of “Oh, he’s just wandering around and knows exactly what he’s doing,” to, on a second glance, “He’s absolutely terrified and if he isn’t actually lost he’s really scared of all the cars and in danger of bolting onto the freeway,” .
I pulled over, crossed the road and hurried across to where he was. He backed away, skittish and nervous, then came over to me, shaking. No collar or information, just a choke chain. And big. And very wet and very muddy. With cars going past, I decided the wisest thing to do was to put him into my car while I figured out what to do. The car was the Mini. I opened the door and he clambered in. The dog took up most of the Mini that I wasn’t in and a fair amount of the Mini that I was in. Big dog, small car.
I phoned my assistant Lorraine, and asked her to let the local Humane Society (really nice people with a no kill policy) know we’d be coming in soon with a dog, then I drove home, narrowly avoiding death on the way (it’s amazing how much you can’t see when a huge dog fills the car and your field of vision). I ran around the garden with Dog until he’d tired me out. (I really hope he’d just got lost, and his family are looking for him; it would be hard to imagine someone abandoning a dog that cool.) Then I put him into the back of a car much bigger than the Mini and took him to the Humane Society, where they fawned all over him. (“I think he’s a husky-wolf cross,” said the Humane lady who took him, and she could be right.)
A few days later Gaiman says that got a call from the Humane Society saying that they’d found the dog’s own, but that owner, a farmer, wasn’t well enough to care for the dog and was willing to let someone adopt him, so the author did. In doing so, he found a loving friend at a time that he desperately needed one. A fan of Gaiman’s made a Tumblr dedicated to it.
I’d never had a dog. I don’t think he’d ever had a person. And we bonded. Over the next six years, we both changed and we both grew.
My house in the midwest is on about 17 acres of woodland. I rediscovered all of those acres, and local meadows as well. I had a friend at a time when I needed one badly: I was really lonely at the time. I’d separated from my children’s mother, Mary, four years earlier, and she’d moved out, and the house was feeling very empty. I didn’t really have anyone in my life, anyone who felt like mine.
I got unquestioning love from Cabal. Not in a subservient sort of way. When we went walking, he seemed fairly certain that he was in charge — after all, he was faster, could smell things, and had a much better idea of how things worked in the woods.
He wasn’t afraid of anything, except thunderstorms. And elevators.
Fast forward to last week, a time when Gaiman was working away from his home. He received a sudden call from the person looking after his house and his animals.
I got the phone call last night from Hans, who looks after the grounds and the house, from the vet’s. Cabal had had a normal, fun day, and then suddenly got really ill. He was vomiting and having trouble breathing. I’d missed the last plane and was going to fly home this morning to be with him while he was ill. Another phone call: he and Mary my housekeeper were with Cabal, and they were both in tears. They put me onto the vet, who was going to try to get Cabal to the animal hospital. He couldn’t breathe. The vet thought there was a blood-clot in his lung. Another call: he wasn’t going to make it to the hospital. His heart had stopped. The vet had just brought him back to life, but he was barely able to breathe and she was worried about him going into seizures and dying in pain…
And I wasn’t there. If I’d been there, he would have been okay with whatever was happening. If I’d been there it would have been safe for him to go. I talked to him on the phone, intending to say something calming so he could hear my voice, and instead just cried and told him I was sorry that I wasn’t there.
I spoke to the vet one last time, and told her to let him go.
I cried. Amanda came and held me, and I cried some more. Holly called and I told her what had happened, and she cried too. It was so sudden and unexpected and I wasn’t there with him when he went. And I’d lost my friend.
I’m so glad I knew him. I’m so glad we found each other. I don’t imagine I’ll ever have another bond like that in my life. I wish dogs lived longer.
Goddamn dogs, man. They’re the best.