From the time that Liz and I rescued him from the streets of Puerto Rico, Finn has been preternaturally attuned to the needs of others. He is a creature of uncommon perceptiveness who sometimes stuns me with a dose of animal pragmatism.
With my rough-and-tumble grandson, he is always ready to rumble. With my sometimes uneasy granddaughter, he calms down. When, a year after we got him, Liz lay dying of lung cancer, Finn would be on the bed next to her every day, comforting her by gently nuzzling her knee with his nose.
With me, depending on the situation, he is steady or mischievous, always mindful of the human he is dealing with and my level of tolerance. His empathic qualities impress nearly everyone he meets.
In early January, Finn and I spent a day together in our home away from home in Truro. I was sitting at a round table by a large sliding glass door that leads out to a deck. The day was still. The sky was gray, and the air had warmed up some from the arctic freeze that had gripped the East Coast the previous day.
I heard a sudden thump. Finn heard it, too, and rushed to the sliding door looking out towards the deck. He was looking down at the weathered planks on the other side of the window. There, motionless, lay a small gray bird. Seduced by its own reflection, it had crashed into the window.
Finn scratched at the glass with his right front paw, signaling his wish to go out and attend to this fallen creature. I slid the door open, and he went out to the deck.
I watched him there for a minute or so, circling around the bird, inspecting and sniffing its motionless body. For a moment he stepped away, considering what to do next. Again, he approached the bird and sniffed.
Then, with great care, he took the bird gently in his mouth and carried it down the stairs to the yard. Just as gently, he placed its inanimate body on the ground and started to rub his nose along its breast, attentively administering doggie CPR. He did this for a minute or so. Then he stepped away.
I was floored by the whole situation — by the sight of Finn seeming to put hope against hope to reanimate this wretched fledgling from its slumber. If, somehow, it turned out that the bird had not been killed by the impact but was simply stunned and could be revived, the story of Finn’s heroism would be canonized in the folklore of my life. A true miracle.
Again, Finn began to rub the bird with his nose. He continued for a minute or so before stepping away from his pitiable ward once more. His administrations went on for a while, punctuated by periods of retreat.
Perhaps 10 minutes after the thump that had occasioned these events, he returned to the bird once more. Slowly, he lifted the bird by its head, holding it tenderly between his incisors. Then, in an instant, and with great gusto, he took the rest of the bird into his mouth and ate it, giving it a quick crunching chew and swallowing it whole: feathers, beak, bones, and all.
Good dog, Finn! Good dog!
Stuart Ewen is a historian of media, consumer culture, and the compliance profession. He lives in Truro and New York City.