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OUR ANIMALS, OURSELVES: I’ve become Mango’s butler

March 2, 2018
By FRED?HEIDT - For the News , Lake Placid News

I often refer to myself as Mango's butler. That's certainly how it seems a lot of the time, but that's just a more-or-less comical reference to the interaction that the fur-face and I have built up over the past 13 years, one where I've learned that my function in life is to ensure that his life is care-free.

Well, that's the short version, anyway, but it's a role that I love to perform for him, for a bunch of reasons. We'll get to some of those later on, but let me introduce him first.

Mango was an "act of God," as the insurance companies would say. I had very little to do with his arrival. One rainy, chilly Saturday morning in December, I'd half heard some yapping going on somewhere outside while still asleep, but I didn't pay much attention at the time.

Article Photos

Fred Heidt and his dog Mango
(Photo provided)

It had been 20 years since I'd said goodbye to my previous best-dog-there-ever-could-be, Shannon, but I've always paid attention to dogs and barking, and this one I figured was some neighbor's new pup that I hadn't met yet. But when I got to the driveway to go to work, there was an unhappy little guy tied to my lamppost, wet and scared, but subdued, more like he was glad to finally see someone paying attention to him while still unsure of what was happening. I approached slowly, but there was no need to worry; he came inside willingly and I dried him off and asked him what was going on, but he wasn't talking.

As I stood there looking at this halfway good looking pup, I recall thinking a couple things. First, if I kept this guy, someday I'd have to say goodbye to him, like Shannon, and that thought terrified me because that's one of the toughest things we ever have to do in this life. Second, this pup was too small, only around 30 pounds. I grew up with boxers and then a great dane, so this was a serious consideration. He's a tad over 80 pounds now, but the mystery of his arrival remains.

The first few months were a getting-to-know-each-other stage. Lots of playing helped, making this stage fun and productive. We began understanding each other, and after a year or so, enough mutual trust was there so that we could walk without a leash. I always had one with me just in case, but it was understood that he'd listen to me unwaveringly, unless we were dealing with squirrels.

As the years passed, Mango went from crazy pup to the more reserved behavior of middle age (I'd told all the neighbors that he'd be a good dog in six or seven years, and was surprisingly gratified when it finally came to pass), then on to the more difficult stages of senior life. All along the way, though, we've had this connection where we know what the other's thinking just by a look, or a certain move, or a friendly ear-pinch or a nose-nudge on his part. Anyone who's truly made friends with their dog knows what I'm talking about.

His facial expressions are what constantly amaze me. He's so animated it's uncanny, and he reads me just as well. Many of the little events in our lives became continuing traditions over the years, and these help us revert to puppyhood, which is good for everybody.

He's been a bit shy of accepting help as his back legs have become less of the hard-as-wood powerhouses they once were, but after a while, he realized that when I said, "I gotcha, bud," it meant that he should wait for me to get over and boost him up the stairs. Now, often he'll hit the first step and look around at me with that "what're you waiting for, dude?" expression. Of course, this age hurdle applies both ways. I developed some major health problems seven years ago, and he's often turned into my caretaker and protector, and although he's never been a touchy-feely kind of guy, there'd be many times, especially at the beginning of my troubles, that he'd be right there curled up next to me, so close that we could feel each other breathing, and he'd give me a look that said "I gotcha, bud."

All us butlers develop this sort of connection with their beasts, but Mango is the first dog that I've had where it's been just the two of us for his entire life cycle, and I'm in awe of the idea that he's accepted our pack of two so completely.

We're also blessed to have met up with a bunch of dog walkers over the years, so his extended pack counts many dozens of other critters, both two- and four-legged. But I believe the intensity of this relationship is due to this one-on-one nature of our pack. We're each part of the other, implicitly trust each other, and just enjoy hanging with each other.

Now, it's progressed to two old goats who get a walk in as we're able, both much less tolerant of young punks (two or four legs), neither getting around as well anymore, but will be there and help each other out as much as we can, and y'know, I can't imagine a better life.

I gotcha, bud.



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