Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Dog in a Snowstorm: The Inspiration Behind Huckleberry

I remember the day distinctly.

It was a cold, blustery high desert afternoon in early December. The snow had stopped falling and the storm had blown itself out, but the white stuff still lay around sidewalks and parking lots in tall drifts. The last few leaves on the aspen tree outside my cubicle window trembled in a frigid gust. The grey skies grew darker as the wintry sun slipped lower toward the horizon.

“Do you have time to look into this news tip, Megan?” my editor asked.

I wanted to say no. Deadline was only two hours away, and my mind was already on the road going home. A road that would be frozen and slick if I didn’t get on it by a reasonable hour that night.

But I couldn’t come up with a decent excuse in time. And besides, I was relatively new to the newspaper then. I couldn’t exactly pick and choose stories as I pleased. I had to prove myself. And that meant taking on anything that came my way.

Before I knew it, I was nodding my head, a can-do smile on my face.

“Yes. Absolutely.”

Minutes later, the tip arrived in my inbox.

And I immediately regretted saying yes.

Because the tip was about a dog.

Saving the life of… another dog.

My gut reaction was to think someone was playing a joke.

Reporters, as a rule of thumb, are not a sentimental crowd. For the most part, they are a hardened group who are skeptical, critical, and very rarely moved by anything. While pet stories are often popular with readership, they’re usually a running joke around the office. They’re the kind of stories that most self-respecting journalists try to avoid like the plague.

And as I picked up the phone to call the animal shelter that December day to get the inside scoop on the supposed hero dog, I was no different than most of my fellow reporters in that regard.

It wasn’t that I disliked pets. In fact, I was very much a dog person. I just didn’t want to write a gushy, gooey piece about one. At the time, I thought there were far more important things to write about. Urban growth boundaries, ADA regulations that the city wasn’t conforming to, or fraudulent liquor control agents all seemed like topics more worthy of my time.

But little did I know how wrong I was.

I spent the rest of the afternoon tracking down the story. And when I had finished interviewing sources and gathering information, I couldn’t quite believe the story I had in my hands.

Nala, a pit-bull/black lab mix, had been at the Humane Society of Redmond shelter for months without any real adoption interest. Though a sweet dog, her dislike for cats and her nervous temperament, along with her pit-bull blood, were deal breakers for potential adopters. And though the Humane Society did its best to find good homes for all its guests, it couldn’t afford to be a no-kill shelter. Which meant that if Nala didn’t find a forever home soon, her future was uncertain.

The week I was forwarded the news tip, a shelter volunteer took Nala out for a routine walk around the neighborhood. The streets were slick with ice and piles of snow, and the temperature hovered below freezing. As the shelter volunteer and the pooch rounded a corner, Nala suddenly started tugging hard on the leash and whimpering – something she rarely did. Recognizing this, the shelter volunteer gave her some slack. She led him a few hundred yards to a snowy ditch.

And the volunteer was shocked by what he found there.

A small ball of black and white fur was curled up at the bottom of the ditch. The creature was not moving.  

At first the shelter volunteer thought the dog, which seemed to be a cocker-spaniel mix of some kind, was dead. But upon closer inspection, he realized that the dog was still breathing – although just barely.

The shelter volunteer retrieved the dog, which had balls of ice stuck to its paws, and brought him inside the shelter, along with Nala. The shelter staff was able to save the dog, and discovered that he was microchipped. From there, they came to a fascinating realization:

The dog who’d been saved had, at one time, been Nala’s fellow sheltermate!


The 10-year-old Cocker Spaniel’s name was Chadwick, and he was blind. He had recently been adopted out from the shelter, and his new residence was two miles away from the Humane Society. When the shelter staff contacted his owner, she was utterly relieved to find out that the dog was okay. He had broken through the backyard fence, and she’d been looking for him all over. Little did she know though that Chadwick, most likely having gotten lost in the storm, had been trying to find his way back to his old home - the animal shelter. The small dog had been missing for a full week.

In addition to all of this, five other dogs were walked right past the ditch the day that Nala found Chadwick there. And not one of them had sensed the poor suffering pooch in peril there. Only Nala had.

“I think this is going to be one of the most-read stories tomorrow,” my editor said with a smile after reading the article.

And he was right.

The next morning, I woke up and saw that my article wasn’t just the most-read on the newspaper’s web site, but it had gotten picked up by the Associated Press. It went viral, and appeared on web sites across the country, and on national web sites like MSN. The Humane Society of Redmond received hundreds of calls that day about Nala’s heroics.

Nala’s story touched everyone who heard it.

And to my surprise, Nala's story touched me most of all.

But Nala didn’t get her happy ending right away, though. Despite being lauded as a hero dog from one coast to the other, her pit bull blood scared a lot of people off. It took several more months of follow-up stories, and then one day, I got the call from the shelter: A farmer a few towns over had filled out papers to adopt the hero pooch.

Nala now lives on 10 acres of beautiful Central Oregon country, loved, and free to roam to her heart's content.

And though I’ve written hundreds of articles in the years since, Nala’s story still remains one of the ones I feel proudest of. Because I had actually made a real difference in that dog’s life. And to this day, that thought still gives me goose bumps.

After that story, whenever an animal or pet-related tip came across the news desk, I was the go-to reporter to cover it.

But you know what? I didn’t really mind all that much.

In fact, I kind of liked writing those stories.

So much so that when I began writing cozy mysteries – something I would have never considered doing in my pre-hero pooch story world – they always seemed to center around dogs.

And I know that I have Nala to thank for that, and for a lot of my career as a cozy author. Without her touching story, I might not have had the change of heart that I had.

Chadwick wasn't the only one that Nala helped that cold and snowy day in December.


  1. Honestly I had a feeling this was based off of a real dog because this is something my pupoy Jacob would do. He would look for food but never leave your side. I love this series.

  2. pets add love and giving,why not have them in a novel/story, unconditional loyalty is automatically offered by our pets! loving the stories by the way.

  3. I love to read stories with pets in them because I have two cats and two dogs and my life would not be complete without them. So reading stories about people's "everyday lives" like Cinnamon's that have pets in them brings the stories and characters "to life".

  4. I love stories with animals in them because animals give unconditional love and loyalty. They often know things before we humans realize them. My animals have all played an important part in my life. Thank you for caring and being a voice for those who can't speak with yournewsstories.

  5. I love to read stories with pets in them ... it makes a story more like everyday or real life when they are included.

  6. That was the best post ever, MM. It was so heartwarming and awesome....and really, really sweet. I loved reading about the evolution of hard-nosed reporter turns warm fuzzy cozy author!!! Wowsie!!!
    I love dogs and cats in books....they kind of represent the best of us I think, reminding us of who we really are and how we really can be (kind, loyal, fun, and full of lots of love). Buddy is my favorite pet in your series, btw, but heck you probably already knew that. ;)