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Sniffing Out Their Own Kind

The story you are about to read is true. Names have been withheld to protect the innocent. And while this tale of the power of the “animal-animal bond” never fails to surprise the humans who hear it, perhaps the greater surprise, in retrospect, is that it surprises us at all—and that we would expect anything less of our four-legged friends.

These three dogs weren't going home without each other.
In the aftermath of Katrina, the scene at the Forrest County Multipurpose Center—temporary shelter to more than 1,600 displaced Mississippi animals—was, in the words of shelter veterans on site, “organized chaos.”

Amidst all the smells, sights, and sounds of cleaning, feeding, and loving care provided by volunteers and staff working on overdrive and pure adrenaline, three dogs in different stalls were keeping detailed tabs on one another.

No one was aware of this canine communication until the day a family of four entered the area to search for their beloved pets. The younger members of the brood, two children around 9 and 11 years old, were crying that they would never find their dogs. But when they described one of the dogs while filing a report, a volunteer who’d been cleaning and feeding in the wee hours every morning—and thus knew the faces of many of the animals in the shelter—took notice.

I know exactly which dog they’re talking about, thought the shelter veteran from New England, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of a backlash against her breaches in protocol. Maybe she should have used a leash, she says now, but at the time she had a strong instinct to lead the family down a row of stalls, open the door to one of them, and let the little brown terrier mix inside run free.

“I figured the dog was going to run right towards them and go, ‘Oh, I’m so happy to see my owner!’ ” says the volunteer. But things did not go according to plan. Instead of running to the family, the terrier sprinted two stalls down and jumped up against the door. Following her instincts once again, the volunteer obliged the little dog by letting the pooch behind Door No. 2 run free as well. After the two old friends greeted each other, it seemed to be time for both dogs to come to their senses and run toward the family.

But their business was not done yet. The two pooches turned around and high-tailed it down the aisle. With whistles blowing around them, workers yelling “dog on the loose!” and five people huffing and puffing at their heels in the 97-degree heat, the dogs kept running, down one long row of 17 stables and up the next.

“And as we go around the corner, they’re jumping on the stables where this other dog was,” says the volunteer. “And once they all greeted one another, they turned around … and ran right towards the family. So they weren’t going to run off anywhere—they just wanted to find one another!”

Was it their barking that kept the lines of communication open? Or that keen sense of smell, the strength of which the members of our hairless two-legged species will never quite be able to grasp? No one knew for sure. But no one could help but cry either. “Even though they were yelling at me and upset with me,” says the volunteer, “everybody was in tears.”


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