© Copyright 2018 by Kathryn Lynch
The two year old German Shepherd lived in a small town in Alaska. His bed sat in front of a furnace vent on the second floor, where he spent most afternoons sleeping and dreaming happily about canine adventures, real and imagined. He had another name then, though in later years he could not remember what it was.
He knew nothing, nor did he care, about a failing economy in the area. So when his family stopped at the edge of town to let him out, he was surprised to see their van drive off without him, and he determined to wait until they came back. He sat for several hours by the roadside until darkness fell.
Day after day, the Shepherd sat by the side of the road, waiting for his people to return. A closed up car parts store with a canopy in front offered his only shelter at night. Many of the townspeople saw him waiting. They began to call him “Sentry” because of his daily vigil.
Two of the local women brought him food and water. One of the women wanted to take him home, but no one could catch the elusive canine, who ran off into the nearby woods when anyone approached him. Then, when everyone had gone, the dog always returned to waiting by the side of the road.
On one of these afternoons of that first Winter, a speeding car hit Sentry, who flew into the air, then landed on the pavement in a heap. He was terrified and one of his rear legs was badly broken.
Though he now limped on three legs, the faithful dog maintained his daily vigil by the roadside, watching. It began to snow. Ice formed around his eyes and nose. Shards of ice clung to his fur. He shivered constantly from the cold, but he would not give up.
This dog was costing the local Animal Control a lot of time and money. Every day they received requests for them to aid the injured dog at the edge of town. Many callers berated them for leaving an animal in such a pitiful state. Several times a week the Officers were sent to the site to attempt his capture, but Sentry ran limping into the woods behind the store before the men even got out of their truck.
Finally, they decided to tranquilize him. He was darted and brought to the Shelter, where the Vet found his leg healing fairly straight on its own. He received immunizations, was flea treated, wormed, neutered, licensed, and released to the woman who had been feeding him for months. She had a fenced back yard and a warm house waiting.
Sentry checked out his new surroundings, and soon realized that his vigil had been interrupted. When he was allowed into the yard to exercise, he promptly dug a hole under the fence and was gone.
He was located the following morning at the edge of town sitting by the side of the road.
The women placed a large dog house under the canopy, filling it with straw to offset the cold. Next they left a fifty pound bag of food with a hole in the side large enough to accommodate his head, as well as a five gallon bucket of water. The water froze often but they regularly switched the buckets, leaving a thawed bucket in place of the frozen one.
The local paper wrote a story about the dog's vigil. As a result, although he answered to no one, he now belonged to everyone. Many times a day, passing cars would acknowledge his presence by tooting a greeting as they left or returned to town. Children placed treats for him at the doghouse. As they sat in their family cars, they were rewarded by seeing him come out of the woods, grab the treats, and enjoy them.
A second and then a third Winter descended upon the town. At times temperatures fell to thirty degrees below zero, with winds making it feel even colder. Some snowstorms were so heavy that they covered the waiting dog, who appeared to be a lump by the roadside. He was always cold. Loneliness for his family pervaded his spirit. He howled often, calling out to them, hoping that they would hear him and return.
As the third Winter began to wane, Sentry decided that his people were lost. He would have to find them on his own. So it was, that early one morning he left the town and began to walk in the direction that he had seen the family car disappear. Woods lay on either side of the road and he was alone except for the occasional passing vehicle. After about four miles, his damaged leg began to ache, so he sat down to rest.
It was at that moment he realized, deep in his core, that he would never find his people. They were lost to him forever. Sentry raised his head skyward and he began to howl, loud mournful wails which penetrated the forest. His cries continued until he was spent and broken, but no one heard him.
Now he resumed walking, head hanging down, tail between his legs, whimpering and whining. He was beaten; he no longer had a purpose.
After he had gone twelve miles, he came upon a cluster of shops, including a second hand store. Sentry could see through the glass door that a woman and two small children were inside. When the woman saw the dog, she recognized him as the one from the edge of town. “He was skittish”, they said, so when she opened the door, she expected him to run away. Instead, he came in and lay down in front of the wood stove.
For the first time in three years, Sentry felt the loving touches of friendly children and the warmth of a fire. His tail began to wag, thumping loudly on the floor. He had done his best. He closed his eyes--and slept.
Sentry lived with his new family for many years. A second hand store was a good choice because in a bad economy, these places thrive as people try to find bargains which will fit into their tight budgets. When the people in the town heard where Sentry had gone, they visited him at the store, often purchasing an item from the shelves before they left. He greeted all visitors without hesitation. He had a new purpose now.
The people in the town placed a statue of Sentry in front of the car parts store as a tribute to the faithful dog who loved his people unconditionally, and who had become their own best friend. The statue remains there to this day.