It was about two weeks before Christmas. I had been invited by one of my former professors to join him and his family for dinner. As he was one of my favorite teachers, I looked forward to spending an evening with them.
He lived in an area called Madison Park – well within walking distance from my apartment.
I was checking the numbers on the glass entry ways and was four apartment buildings away from my professor’s home when I was grabbed by three thugs with switch blades, forced into the lobby of the closest building, made to lie on the floor – and that’s the last I remember.
Apparently, one of my assailants knocked me unconscious with a strong kick to my head. When I awoke, I remember being mad at myself for leaving the windows of my apartment open. I was freezing cold. Not only had my attackers taken my wallet – as little as it contained – they had taken almost all my clothes. It was about twenty degrees outside.
I remember making the effort to get up and then lying back down on the cold tile floor of the apartment building’s foyer. Fortunately, one of the residents of the building came home, saw me lying there half-naked and went to her apartment to phone the police.
I spent three days in the hospital with a minor concussion. What concerned my doctors more than the concussion was the damage which had been done near my right eye. They were concerned that I might lose the sight in the eye and possibly the eye itself. But I was lucky. Their fears proved themselves to be unfounded and I was left with good sight – but a very nasty bruise on the side of my face. This took almost two months before it healed completely.
At the time I was the organist at St. Thomas the Apostle Church. I had gotten to know many of the Dominican nuns who taught at the church’s school and they decided to work on a new mission – to get me a dog for “protection.” They worked their magic among the parishioners and took up a collection for this purpose.
The result of their efforts was that after I finished playing for services one Sunday I was met by Mother Mary Margaret, the convent’s Superior and a formidable woman. In a large bassinet rested a little Irish Setter puppy. Mother Mary handed this adorable puppy to me and said, “This puppy is for you so that you have both company and protection.”
I was overwhelmed – but my life-long love of dogs, that adorable face with its tongue constantly sticking out and wanting to lick someone – made my decision easy.
I gratefully accepted the puppy and carried him in his transport to my apartment. This, of course, demonstrated that while Dominican nuns might be well-versed in the arts of education, they had little knowledge of dog breeds.
Well, Father Featherstonehaughe and I came home. (That was his official name). In case you’re wondering how it is pronounced, it is an ancient Welsh name and the correct pronunciation is Finshaw. Who can quibble with the vagaries of the Welsh tongue? And so Finney – as he was better known – came into my life and heart.
Irish Setters had become very popular and were over-bred. Finney was a victim of that popularity and had a genetic defect – Progressive Retinal Attrition. He started losing his sight when he was six months old and by the time he was one and one half years he was totally blind. Because of the gradual loss of his sight he had acclimated to my apartment and rarely bumped into anything. For the next fifteen years I had the privilege of being his “seeing-eye person.”
Finney was one of the most loving animals on the planet. When someone came up to us, he liked nothing better than to lick that person’s hand – and, if he thought he could get away with it – jump up and extend his admiration to their face.
When he was three years old I had him out for his evening stroll in the park across from our apartment. A man was walking about 100 feet away from us. This man was acting strangely. As he walked he would jerk spasmodically and talk to himself. I thought he was either drunk or on drugs.
I don’t know what Finney was thinking but he sat down on my feet – pointing in the direction of this man – and began snarling. (I had never heard him do this before). As the man walked through the park, Finney swiveled on his rump, remaining on my feet, and continued pointing at this man. And he kept snarling.
When I got back to my apartment building I ran into one of my neighbors and described what had happened. She was incredulous. “Finney snarled at someone? That’s ridiculous. He’s the sweetest dog in the world,” she said.
I dismissed the event for three weeks until I came home one night and picked up my mail. The weekly edition of the local newspaper had arrived. As I was reading through it I saw a picture of the man from the park in the “Police Blotter” section. He had been arrested for committing multiple home break-ins in the neighborhood.
Finney never snarled at anyone again for the rest of his life.
So to get to the title of this post – one of the things that I remember more than all of grandma’s other bits of simple wisdom was this statement:
“Never trust people who don’t like dogs. And never trust people who dogs don’t like.”
It has been my life-long experience that in this, as in so many other things, grandma was right.