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The Wanderby Whose Name Means "Gift"

The best dogs are the ones who find us...

By Lena FolkertPublished 3 years ago Updated 2 years ago 10 min read
Liwu at the Willows Lodge 2009
Liwu at the Harbor, Fort Bragg, CA 2009

I still remember the day that he came into my world. It was shortly after Hurricane Katrina had forced us to relocate to Baton Rouge, and I was feeling lonelier than I had in a long time. I had been praying and asking for a friend and spending my days in bed, feeling sorry for myself.

One morning my sister was standing on our front porch when this tiny, black fluffball walked up. My sister watched as his mother ran off in fear, and she picked him up and walked into my room to show me our newest family member.

Baby Liwu 2005

He looked like a little, black bear with baby fur, tiny little paws, and pointy ears. He looked up at me with puppy dog eyes like I’d never seen before and instantly melted my heart into goo. I said "thank you" in that moment for my gift.

I instantly claimed him as my own, taking him from my sister's arms. I told her and my mother that I had been praying for a friend, and my mother, who was attempting to learn Mandarin, decided that since he was a gift, his name should be "Li'wù," which is Mandarin for "present." From then on, "Liwu" was our family. Our "gift."

We could tell from his coat and curled over tail that he was in the Spitz family of dogs. We know he had at least some Schipperke in his blood, but we never found out exactly what his breed heritage was. He certainly wasn't a "purebred" anything, and his special quality was not his breed, but that he had been handpicked for us.

Liwu dancing for treats 2005

We did, however, find out that he was very smart and quickly learned new tricks. He learned the usual commands, of course: "Sit," "Stay," "Lie Down," "Shake," Etc.

He also learned to respond to those commands with only hand motions: A fist meant "lay down," an open hand moving down meant "sit," and so on.

More than those, though, he also learned: "Twirl." "Dance." High-Five Port," and "High-Five Starboard." All he responded to with voice or motion commands.

I found myself constantly in awe of him. The day I was able to leave a piece of bacon on his nose, walk out the front door, leaving him alone for two whole minutes, and return with him still sitting with bacon on his nose … that was a proud day.

But I cannot overpraise his self-control with food because when it came to fried chicken, an angel he was not. I remember I left him in the car (AC running) for literally two minutes. I had a to-go box of Rasin Canes chicken in the bag that I placed underneath the passenger seat. I then pushed the seat forward on top of it and buried it beneath a backpack.

Liwu was harnessed into the seat, and in those two minutes, he still managed to wiggle from the harness, dig the bag out and eat all the chicken. When I came back, he gave me the guiltiest satisfied look a dog could have. From then on, we called fried chicken "puppy crack," because he simply could not resist it, no matter how well-trained we deemed him.

Liwu holding still with salami on his nose 2009

When Liwu joined our family, we also had an older dog. Her name was Molly. She was fourteen years old then. She was also an adoptee. We had gotten her when I was 8 years old in Alaska. She was in a box in front of a grocery store with her other brothers and sisters. They were climbing all over her, and my heart reached out for her, the runt of the litter.

Below is a picture of Molly a few weeks after we found Liwu. She had cataracts and couldn't see or hear very well. She often did not want to be handled in her old age, but she was once a bouncy, energetic ball of affection.

Molly 2006

The same month that Liwu, our little gift, came to brighten up our lives, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. The day we got the phone call, the three of us girls curled up in a hug with Liwu at the center.

Over the course of the next few months, Liwu accompanied us on our trips to Texas for her treatments. And every difficult moment in that horrific year was alleviated by his constant and joyful presence. (My mother made a full recovery and has been cancer free since).

Liwu at a hotel in Houston 2006

One of the remarkable things about Liwu was his sensitivity to us. He would put his temple against ours and sit with us when he sensed we were sad. Unlike most dogs, he would maintain eye contact and look deep into your soul for long periods of time.

He would yip softly when we came home and nibble our lips. He hated being left alone. His separation anxiety was real and never went away, but he accompanied us everywhere we could take him.

Over the next few years, we lost Molly to the old age of 16. We also expanded our adopted dog family with Jesse and Brandywine in 2009. They came to us in the same month.

Brandywine was left in a shopping cart in front of the PetSmart I worked at. She was a born water dog, thus her name after the Brandywine River in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

Baby Brandywine 2010

A few days after we got Brandywine, my sister came inside and told me about a puppy that was running around our apartment complex. We ran outside together and found this terrified puppy covered in orange paint, huddling in the entryway to one of the apartments. The kids from the apartments had gathered around and were taunting him and throwing rocks at him.

I hated kids everywhere that day. I walked up and picked him up and loudly shamed those children, varying in ages from probably 3-13. He was severely dehydrated, and we did not expect him to make it through the night.

Baby Jesse 2010

He did, though, to our sheer delight and relief. The next morning after a long-night of staying up with him, we washed the orange paint from his fur and somehow managed to keep it secret that we had 3 puppies in our apartment until we moved out the following month. It wasn't until years later, that I found out that his name, Jesse, also meant "gift."

Brandywine and Jesse as pups 2010

We loved our dog family, and whenever someone asked us about their various breeds, we proudly told them they were of the breed, "Wanderby." Some understood, and some did not, but everyone was captivated by our canine family - our three little, black dogs.

Jesse 2011
Jesse and Liwu 2010

We never actively sought to adopt from a shelter, but we always seized the opportunity to rescue a baby in need. These dogs are the best little friends we could have. And we have cherished them ever since.

Of all of our babies, though, Liwu was always destined to be extra special. He accompanied us on every trip and every moment that we could include him in.

Liwu at Pebble Beach, Crescent City, CA 2009
Liwu at Pebble Beach, Crescent City, CA 2009

When my grandfather died, Liwu accompanied us to the funeral in Washington and the month-long road trip back home. He loved exploring the Redwoods and the beaches on the California coast.

His favorite spot was perched on top of the seat in the rearview window, basking in the sun and taking in the sights that flew past. We tried to secure him to the seat belt, but he could wiggle out of any harness. We tried to kennel him, but he would get sick and chew the bars. He was determined. It was our lap or the window seat. Nothing else would do.

Liwu in his spot 2009

When he rode in our lap, he would stand on our legs and stick his nose out the window, constantly sniffing. I didn't even mind the moisture from his nose that would spray me and streak my window. He was so happy just to stand on my lap and sniff the world that streaked past him.

Liwu 2009

I still remember the day we woke up to a phone call that the local pound had found him and called the number on his tag. He had found his way out of the house while we slept. My mother, my sister, and myself all ran to the pound in our pajamas, our hair disarrayed from sleep.

The woman at the desk stared at us with a funny grin on her face, and she took pity on us, waiving the fee. We brought our baby back home. If only all endings were that way.

Liwu with his bear 2009

I sit here, typing about this dog who stole my heart and brightened every moment he was in, and the tears can't be held back anymore. I spent fourteen years in fear of the day he would disappear from my life. He was microchipped not once, but twice. He had three collars with tags to identify him.

Sadly, the day I had feared and prayed would not come finally came last November 9th. It was two days after the anniversary of my father's death. It was the year of Covid.

It was the year of losing my job and spending every day trapped inside without friends. It was the year that sent the world into fear and sadness and chaos. And it was the day that broke my heart beyond repair.

Liwu 2009

We took him to the emergency vet Friday night and brought him home at 5 am, hoping he was better. He made it through the weekend, and on Monday we took him to the good vet, hoping the E-vet was right, and it was just a case of Bloat. It was not. We lost him to Cancer on Monday, November 9th, 2020.

I have never remembered dates or anniversaries very well. They never seemed that important to me. But I can't seem to burn that date from my mind. It might seem disproportional or inappropriate to some people. I have lost loved ones and pets before.

But that was the worst day of my life. While the world was reeling from the pandemic, my world was crashing as well. This dog that once wandered by had become my best friend, my purest source of joy. And, now, he was gone.

Liwu April 2020

We still have Brandywine and Jesse, but they are also getting older, and I fear those days as well. But one thing I have learned from all of the dogs that we have adopted, is that they will always be loyal to the loving owner who takes them in.

The "who rescued who" line is overused by many, but the simple fact is that it is so true. All dogs are beautiful and wonderful, and I do actually recognize the benefits of ethically and well-done breeding of dogs, cats, etc.

But there is no denying that the rescued dog is a forever loyal and grateful dog. We have only formally "adopted" one of the many dogs we have owned. But all of our babies have been rescues.

Jesse 2020

I miss Liwu every second of every day and always will. But what I can do, now, is try to give my current babies the same love we gave him. We can cherish them as the wonderful Wanderbys that they are.

We can remember that the best dogs. The ones that will love us the most. And that we will love the most. The ones who will always be grateful and loyal companions.

Brandywine 2018

These are not the dogs that we find in stores and online…

They are the ones who find us in the shelters, the streets, in our yards, in alleyways, in abandoned shopping carts, in boxes on the street, in apartment entryways covered in spray paint, terrified of the kids, throwing rocks at them. It is the adopted dogs. The stray dogs. The found dogs. The saved dogs. The "Wanderbys" who will always love us the most and need our help the most.

They may not be a pure breed, they may not be the tiny teacup you wanted, or the giant fluffy bear dog you wanted, but they will love you forever. And you will certainly love them.

Liwu April 2020


About the Creator

Lena Folkert

Alaskan Grown Freelance Writer 🤍 Lover of Prose

Former Deckhand & Barista 🤍 Always a Pleaser & Eggshell-Walker

Lifelong Animal Lover & Whisperer 🤍 Ever the Student & Seeker

Traveler 🤍 Dreamer 🤍 Wanderer

Happily Lost 🤍 Luckily in Love

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