Thursday afternoon near the end of a warm October day, Laura and I are standing at the edge of a large, flat, well-groomed lawn. Her barefoot 8-year-old son Atticus is wrestling in the grass with a muscular dog. The boy has the dog in a scissor hold, his legs wrapped around the dog’s torso. The dog sits not moving, her tongue out, content. They stay in this position for several minutes. Then the boy gets up and runs. The dog follows, galloping along after the boy. The boy circles around two oak trees at the edge of the lawn; the dog follows. The boy, tired, stops running and pets the dog. The two drift apart. The dog walks, head cocked, holding its nose in the air at a peculiar angle. It is evident then, and only then, the dog is blind.
On Friday, two days before Valentine’s Day, Laura Goolsby Vernon got a call from a friend about a puppy.
This in itself was not unusual. Laura and her husband, Tony, have served as foster parents for dozens of homeless dogs, caring for them until a permanent home can be found.
Not all of these residencies are successful, however; the Vernons have a part bloodhound, Teddy, for whom a home could not be found and was about to be euthanized.
Teddy is now a permanent part of the Vernon menagerie, which includes four children, three dogs, three cats and 11 chickens.
Laura refers to Teddy as “foster-failed.”
The puppy in question on that Friday call was different from any of the dogs the Vernons had taken in — she was blind.
The pup was a 7-week-old XL American Bully slated to be shipped to a buyer in Germany.
According to an internet source, the breed only dates back to the 1980s and 1990s when American breeders crossed an American Staffordshire terrier with an American pitbull terrier.
The pup was not a tough sell.
“She had me at ‘blind,’” Laura said.
When Laura returned home with the dog, proclaiming to Tony it was his Valentine’s present. It was love at first sight.
Laura and Tony spent their first night with the new pup. The three of them slept on the couch.
Laura’s first inclination was to name the pup Stevie after Stevie Nix of Fleetwood Mac. When she realized people might think Stevie was for Stevie Wonder, she ditched the idea.
One night not long after they got the pup, Laura was standing in her snow-covered yard trying to house train her new pet.
She looked up at the moon and noticed the mottling on the moon’s surface resembled the markings on the pup, thus the name Luna.
Luna, now 10 months old and 75 pounds, is a gorgeous dog.
She is solid muscle and a color breeders call “merle,” a tri-blend of taupe.
Laura says Luna relies on a form of spatial mapping; she runs free on familiar turf. Like the 100 yards or so of wooded terrain between her house and her parents. In unfamiliar territory, she leans in and stays close.
“She’s like a toddler,” said Laura. “She’s more daring on her home turf, but stays close in strange surroundings.”
Luna, now a member of the family, goes along on family vacations.
“We’ve never boarded her and never would,” said Laura. “We look for dog-friendly accommodations.”
This summer Laura and Tony took Luna and six children to Rock City, near Chattanooga.
There was a lot of stair climbing about which Luna was tentative. When they got to Fat-Man’s Squeeze, a narrow passageway between two rocks, Luna wasn’t having it.
“Tony had to carry her through because she wouldn’t go,” said Laura.
After the dog and boy separate, the dog gives chase to a cluster of grazing chickens. The squawking chickens disperse. The dog has never succeeded in her pursuit of the chickens, Laura says.
“She wouldn’t know what to do if she caught one,” she says. “She’s never known meanness or violence.”
Birney Imes ([email protected]) is the former publisher of The Dispatch.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.