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Touched by a Dog

Millie works her magic in leading a once-scared human to a dog of his own.


Some people are funny when it comes to dogs.

Take our longtime downstairs neighbor Michéal Castaldo, a good friend and brilliant musician. But he was terrified of dogs and, well, Julee and I have never been without dogs. Which led to some awkwardness.

Honestly, I couldn’t help but stifle a smile when our adorable little cocker spaniel puppy, Sally Browne, backed Mike up against the lobby wall, her stubby tail vibrating. “She’s just trying to make friends, Mike.”

“I know. I know. Dogs scare me.”

Even 15 years later when an elderly Sally would dodder over to him, Mike would shrink in fear.

“Mike, I don’t think she has any teeth left.”

“I know, I know. I can’t help it.”

Michéal Castaldo. Photo by by Mark Kopko.In the interim we acquired Marty, a white Lab who quickly grew to be a lean 100 pounds…though not mean. But he had the look. He ambled like an athlete and had a thunderous bark. He was boisterous and would jump up on people when he was in a particularly exuberant mood.

I kept him as far away from Mike as possible, even crossing the street to avoid a meeting. Even at a distance I could see Mike’s eyes widen at the sight of Marty and Sally coming down the street. I felt bad for my good neighbor, but what could I do?

Marty and then Sally crossed the Rainbow Bridge to a place where there is no fear at all, and eight years ago we got Millie, our lovely, kind golden retriever. I fully intended to train her to ignore Mike—hard for a dog like Millie, so eager to love everyone. And obedient as she was, she was having none of it. Every time she encountered Mike she puppy-wiggled over to him.

“Millie, no.”

She’d ignore me…but not out of spite, I discovered soon enough. She just wouldn’t give up on Mike.

One day in the lobby when we crossed paths she just lay down at his feet, looking up at him. Mike froze. Millie looked right in his eyes and flattened herself on the floor. I let her leash go slack. Slowly, amazingly, Mike leaned over and rubbed her head. Millie smiled appreciatively. I think it was the first time he ever touched a dog. And I think he liked it.

In fact, I know he did. He and Millie became buddies. And one day about a year later Mike came into the lobby with a puppy carrier in his hand. Inside was a fluffy little thing he’d already named Elvis. Fitting for a musician, right? Needless to say, Mike and Elvis are practically inseparable. I think Millie is very proud of the work she did to bring them together.

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By the way, Mike released a digital single, Everything Happens for a Reason. It’s his most faith-based work yet and he totally shines as a singer, composer, arranger, producer and multi-talented musician. Julee, who knows about these things, says Mike is one of the most naturally gifted artists she’s ever known. Listen to it here:

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