Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society Manager Jason Nickles pauses with Mama Dog Thursday near the shelter entrance, where she often waits to greet visitors. The former stray arrived at the shelter on Feb. 7, 2006, one day after Nickles began working there. The dog has been a beloved fixture ever since. Photo by: Jan Swoope/Dispatch Staff
September 8, 2018 10:03:57 PM
Almost 13 years ago, on Feb. 6, 2006, Jason Nickles joined the staff of the Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society and pretty much made it his "home away from home." One day later, Mama Dog showed up and made herself at home, too. The former stray and Nickles, who manages shelter operations, have been firm buddies ever since.
Mama Dog isn't as spry as she once was. Her hearing is just about gone, and she moves more slowly now. Even so, she still takes her role as "greeter" to heart, positioning herself by the shelter's front door, welcoming all those who cross the threshold. That is, unless she's close on Nickles' heels, or napping under the reception desk.
Shelter staff estimate Mama Dog's age must be at least 15. In August, she marked her fifth year in the new humane society facilities built on Airline Road in east Columbus, not far from the deteriorating building the shelter operated out of before. It was there, in much older, cramped quarters, that Mama Dog began earning her reputation as "a trickster."
"She came in as a stray, had probably six or seven puppies with her," Nickles recalled. "Once they all got adopted, we couldn't keep her in a cage."
Indeed, the dog revealed a canny talent for escape. The previous shelter's old wood was no match for her determination.
"She could open doors with her teeth, she chewed through wood and got out of cages," Nickles said.
He recounted an episode that seems to have won Mama Dog her run of the place. When her puppies were weaned, they were fostered out to await spaying and neutering when old enough. When that time came and they returned to the shelter for the procedures, Mama Dog was confined separately overnight.
"Maybe she could smell them or somehow knew they were there, but she chewed through three wood doors, and when we came in to work, she was lying with her puppies. That's when we said, 'Forget it, let her go where she wants,'" Nickles smiled, tossing his hands up in the air for effect.
Escapades aside, Mama Dog's good nature quickly won staff and volunteers over. They adopted her into their informal "family." Nickles learned her likes and dislikes, comforting her fear of thunderstorms and occasionally taking her to his home on weekends to "rip and run."
The canine's transition to the new facility five years ago seemed to go seamlessly, shelter staff said. That's not to say she didn't test her Houdini skills there, too. There was even an early incident that involved setting off an alarm after hours, which summoned police to the grounds. When Nickles arrived, law enforcement diligently warned him to keep safely back.
"I tell you, it's going to be the dog," Nickles recalled telling them. Sure enough, the four-legged escape artist, who should have been inside, soon came trotting into view around the building outside. "There's the culprit right there," he recounted saying.
The tales are all part of Mama Dog lore now at the shelter, snippets in the story of a beloved dog who found her real place in the world nearly 13 years ago.
Karen Johnwick is director of the Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society, a position she's held since 2007.
"She's just been an awesome addition to the shelter; she knows it's her home," Johnwick said. "Everybody knows her and looks for her when they come in."
Receptionist and secretary Lisa Richard knows the office "mascot" can still be feisty, despite her age.
"She has more life in her than I do in me sometimes," she joked.
The reality, however, is that she's an older girl now, one with senior status. She's earned the privilege of taking life at a more relaxed pace.
"If you're ever looking for her and can't find her," Nickles said, "she's either got her head in a food bowl, or she's sleeping under the office desk or sleeping in the bathroom. ... I really don't know if there will ever be another one like her."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.