He is just an ordinary hound, black on top with a tan head and legs. His muzzle now has a bit of white. His eyes and ears hang as any hounds’ ears do-long, mournful, sad, but somehow appealing. His walk is a cross between an AKA purebred and a crab. Seen walking from the back his hindquarters are slightly out of whack with his front half giving him that real hound gait so often seen in fields and on roads. Like all hounds he has a disposition envied by all who know him, even cats who curl next to him for a nap lesson in sunshine. Never has he barked or growled at a human or cat, but he does chase thunder across the yard, barking all the way. When its peal rolls away, he trots back to the house full of pride. We’ve never told him that thunder fades away like that, preferring to allow him a bit of glory.
He found my wife, Mary Ann, in the Shenandoah County Animal Shelter when she took supplies to the shelter and decided to walk through the dog cages. Each time she passed his corner cage he would tilt his head back and go, “WWOOWWOOWWOO.” After she came home and told he about him, we returned to the shelter. He came home with us and has yet to tilt his head and go, “WWOOWWOOWWOO.” He doesn’t’ have to, I tell Mary Ann his mistress, he has her now and a good home with two beagles and five cats. Why court her now, I ask. We named him Nolan, for no particular reason, but over the years Mary Ann has given him several monikers. One is, “a noble hound,” and he is. He, a sixty-five-pound dog stands next to the water dish waiting for a six-pound cat to finish drinking before he slakes his thirst. No kingdom ever saw such nobility and rank.
Unlike the beagles, he had no or little respect for the invisible fence. Too often he would just crash through the sting of the electricity with a “YYYYEEEEEEP” and be gone on a hound search for any good adventure. A few times we saw him on his stomach trying to crawl under the invisible fence, but he soon gave that up and just charged ahead, shocks and all. He then would roam until a friend or we found him and returned him to his home range, not understanding our devotion to him, but a fenced hound, for him, was as wrong as a fenced dream.
When we lived in Alexandria, Virginia and visited the farm each weekend, he walked us around the block on which he lived. Other dogs also walked the block, but they were those types that wore fancy collars, had groomed fur, and even bathed. When neighbors would ask us what type of dog Nolan was, we would give them a shocked look and say, “Why, he’s a Shenandoah Black and Tan.” Too haughty to admit confusion of the “breed”, they would utter, “Oohhh,” before walking away. But it all is not a total lie for he is black and tan, and he is from Shenandoah, but people who are more interested in a breed than character are easily fooled anyway and deserve to be.
When we drove here for our move from Shenandoah, Virginia to Lake Norman, North Carolina, the three dogs rode in my car. Mary Ann got the cats. The female beagle lay in the front seat of my van while her brother relaxed on the back floor. Nolan, my co-pilot, sat erect between the seats looking for any danger and present if I needed any help. He reminded me of the Coastguard in the epic poem Beowulf—stoic and on duty.
Yet perhaps the most endearing nick name he carries is Mary Ann’s favorite, “My sweet boy.” That is what he is to her, and it is what he is. A sweet male. He is not out to prove anything to himself or his mistress or me or visitors. He is what he is, and that is enough for him and should be for us. A sweet boy who loves and is loved.