Settle in because I’m about to tell you the most wild, unbelievable story of survival. Not my survival. This amazing dog. Mango. Who has lived for years with liver cancer, Cushing’s disease, and pain that would keep most humans in bed. She’s 14 years old, and about as frail as a dog can be and still move.
We rescued Mango from the SPCA in 2006. She was a six-month-old goofball who only stopped moving when she slept. She’s a had a full life. When we made a temporary move to Denmark, our family fostered her on a farm in Texas, where she swam in a pond every day and her best friend was a goat. Once she ran off after a herd of deer and everyone thought she was lost forever – until she turned up on the front porch. Mango has seen some things.
Last weekend, we went to stay on the Suwannee River, up north near the Georgia line. We took her with us because, even though she can’t walk easily anymore, see much, or hear very well, we knew she would love it.
The second night, around 3:30 a.m., my wife Maricris hauled Mango down two flights of stairs and into the pitch black woods so she could go to the bathroom. Our cabin sat right on the river, with a steep, limestone bank.
Sometime later, Maricris burst into our room, hysterical. Mango, without a leash, had gone over the bank, into the fast-moving, black water below. We ran outside, searching wildly with flashlights for any sign of her. I teetered out over the water like a crazed momma bear. But she was gone. Just gone.
I can tell you that I was inconsolable. We all were. Our beautiful, strong, amazing girl vanished, just like that, into the black water and darkness. Alone.
We slowly went back into the house, wide awake, bewildered and devastated. Maricris and I passed sleepless, tearful hours in the dark. How could Mango be gone, just like that?
The next morning we began the dazed, slow and sad process of putting together a recovery mission. Her body could be miles down the river, but we had to try. We loaded a canoe with towels to wrap her in, if we found her. More likely the river had taken her without a trace.
Maricris and I paddled slowly, eyeing the limestone banks, letting the river move us downstream. I tried to steel myself against the nausea and the heartbreak.
About a quarter mile down the river, we passed a stand of cypress. I saw the glint of a white, sandy beach. I saw movement. A bird, probably. Then I looked closer. It was orange. An orange moving thing. A Mango. Standing on the beach, looking right at us, not a scratch on her after a night in the inky swamp.
This dog, this frail old bag of beloved bones, tumbled over an embankment in the darkest night, pitched into black water and swam a quarter-mile downstream, where she pulled herself onto a tiny spit of sand in the middle of nowhere. And where, in the morning, she greeted her two sobbing humans on the shore like it was just another day.
I tell you this story because, well, it’s a great story. In the midst of COVID-19 counts and epic uncertainty, it’s a story we need. We know Mango doesn’t have much time left in the world. But she hasn’t given up. She pulled herself up on the banks of the Suwannee because she wasn’t ready to give up. She happily goes to work every day that I let her. She loves nothing more than being useful, and to be loved. I think that’s what keeps her going. I think that’s what keeps a lot of us going.
The fact is, Mango is so much stronger than I think she is.
I think we all are.