by Rose Anna Lucarelli

I went to an animal shelter many years ago hoping to adopt another wonderful dog. Cheri, formerly known as Speck, a female Basenji-Jack Russell mix, charmed me with her circus-dog antics. Somehow, she balanced on her hind legs and fluttered her front paws in semaphore without flying away.

I almost lost her to a nine-year-old who had indicated interest just before I arrived. He had not claimed her, so I jumped right in because I knew no one could love her more. It was the beginning of another splendid relationship. All my dogs were adopted from a shelter in New York City, although I now live in Chestnut Hill.

Cheri entertained the neighborhood kids in Benet Park. They called her “Circus Dog.” While my cocker spaniel, Valentino, worked the senior crowd, hoping to find my mother among them, Cheri charmed the after-school players. I must admit she wasn’t always the easiest dog to get along with in the beginning.

And it didn’t matter. Our morning-before-work walks (hello, 30 minutes!) resulted in returning home, where she’d pee on the floor before you could say “Late for work.” And it didn’t even matter when I found a shredded Manhattan phonebook scattered throughout the foyer. Looked like the aftermath of the Saint Paddy’s Day parade.

Cheri loved Valentino very much, and we were happy together. We traveled every summer, vacationing in fine pet-friendly hotels and B and B’s. My pets were always welcomed and complimented on their good behavior. I was told they were better behaved than the kids who had boarded excursion boats and trains. Naturally, I was a proud mom.

Then it happened one night: Cheri barked very strangely. Something about the sound of her bark alerted me. I did not attempt to quiet her or return to sleep. Moments later, I heard loud sounds outside my door. The building superintendent was banging on my neighbor’s door, engulfed in thick smoke as he forced it open.

I immediately called 911, grabbed a robe and ran out with Cheri and Valentino. The police arrived within minutes. I unlocked the front lobby doors and pointed them in the right direction, and asked if I could help them alert my neighbors. “Get the hell out of here!” was their wise response. Minutes later, you could not see your hand in front of your face.

We watched an expert team of police officers and firefighters evacuate the building and put out an electrical fire that had actually started in a vacant apartment next door to mine. My neighbors and I waited outside in the cold and in our parked cars throughout the endless night. We were comforted by firefighters who had provided blankets.

When we were notified that we were no longer in danger and attempted to enter the building, I was informed that my apartment was not habitable. It was flooded. And condemned by Red Cross. I was allowed to enter and collect a few personal belongings, and then Valentino and Cheri and I left our home.

I told the firefighters and police officers that Cheri had warned me. Thankfully they told me that no one had been injured. They called Cheri a “Heroine,” to which she responded with her usual circus-dog routine. Thank you to the brave firefighters and police officers and Cheri for saving us.

Chestnut Hill resident Rose Anna Lucarelli is a teacher, artist, poet and screenplay writer.