Two small dogs, sisters, who have been apart since 2015 are about to reunite at Morrissey Park in Champaign. One of the dogs, Sally, is mine and my wife’s. Jill and I have been looking forward to this moment for months.
Jill holds the leash and I hold my phone, recording the moment on video. It’s a cloudy springtime day in the mid-70s, a little windy. Some people are playing soccer on the sprawling nearby field, but otherwise the park is mostly empty.
Her tail wagging, Sally walks in a zigzag fashion on a sea of green grass, heading toward the sidewalk on the northeast side of the park, where Sharon and Rick Francis of White Heath are waiting with their dog, Sally’s sister, Motley, formerly known as Sue.
“I’m hoping that there’s not going to be any barking,” Jill says, knowing there probably will be.
“She wants to go that way for some reason,” Sharon says of Motley, whose tail is also wagging.
Just seconds prior to the big reunion moment between the two dogs, Sally quickly urinates.
“Look who it is, Sally,” Jill says in a sing-song voice. “You’re not paying attention.”
Sally then picks up the pace, trotting toward Motley, who veers away when her sister gets too close. Jill holds tight to the leash. Sally wants to sniff Motley and get up close and personal, but it may be too soon for that. Sharon tells us her dog “is a little fearful.” Indeed, Sally is a ball of energy while Motley, whose tail is wagging less now, looks like she wants to be left alone.
The dogs separate as Rick and I continue to record the event on our phones. The reunion we’d been looking forward to so far feels a tad lackluster, but at least Jill got her wish: There is no barking—yet. The dogs walk in the direction Motley initially wanted to go, with Sally pulling toward her sister, who is hugging the edge of the sidewalk on the right side.
“Timid” is the word Sharon uses to describe the couple’s dog. Jill continues to hold the leash tight. We know Sally is anything but timid. Her barking commences but luckily subsides after several minutes.
The idea for the reunion came about on a Sunday evening back in early January. I was telling Jill how great it would be if Sally could reunite with her sibling. We were aware she had one when we picked her up as a “rescue dog” at the Humane Society, though for years Jill thought it was a brother, not a sister, that Sally was related to.
Jill didn’t waste a moment that January evening, calling the Humane Society right then to see if we could connect with the owners of Sally’s sister. In what was a surprisingly easy process, the person from the Humane Society arranged for Sue’s owners to contact us if they were interested in a sibling reunion, which they were. Sharon contacted Jill that evening via text, writing, “Thank you for reaching out. Here are a few pictures of our dog, Motley. She came to us as Sue (now Motley Sue:). She has had a very good life and we love her so much!”
“Thank you for reaching out. Here are a few pictures of our dog, Motley. She came to us as Sue (now Motley Sue:). She has had a very good life and we love her so much!”
Pictures were exchanged digitally, and we noticed right away Motley’s well-groomed, darker hair. Sally’s coloring is a mix of black and white. One of our nephews once likened her look to a cow, and it was an accurate observation. If you were to blend Sally’s hair color in a mixing bowl, it would likely come out in the color of Motley’s dark gray, which Rick says has become increasingly whiter as the years have gone by. I can relate to that.
The similarities of the 13-year-old dogs’ faces are unmistakable. In that regard, they look like sisters.
We begin walking and Rick tells us about the intricacies of Motley’s name. She was Sue for the first five years of her life, before he and Sharon owned her. After they picked Sue up from the Humane Society and gave the dog a new home, they attached Motley to the first part of her name, an obvious play on words that calls to mind the rock band Motley Crüe.
But Rick explains there’s more to it than that. The couple have another dog, one that is part Jack Russell Terrier, part Shih Tzu. They also had a cat, whom Motley loved playing with, though the feline was put off by the dog’s friskiness, always batting her away with declawed paws. These two pets had “M” names, and Rick adds that the trio of animals constituted a “motley crew” of pets that enlivened their household, thus Sue’s newly rechristened name. Now she goes strictly by Motley and doesn’t even acknowledge the Sue label.
Sally is wheezing and pulling the leash as we walk, unable to control her excitement in Motley’s presence. The women piece together the dogs’ past based on what they learned several years ago at the Humane Society.
Jill tells the group, “Their owner was a young girl, I heard. They basically lived in their bedroom for five years, like in that bedroom. She lived with her mom, but her mom wouldn’t allow the dogs out to roam.”
Jill goes on, telling us the girl moved in with her boyfriend, initially bringing Sally and Sue with her. The problem was that the boyfriend had one, or possibly two, big dogs, and the new arrangement didn’t click among the canines. The girl brought Sally and Sue back to her mom’s place, with the directive to rehome them. That didn’t happen, so Sally and Sue were taken to the Humane Society.
Sharon speculates that there was a “food problem” during Sally and Sue’s early years due to their sharing of space with the bigger dog (or dogs), as well as what she says may have been a cat in the mix.
“We always kind of wondered if there was a cat that they lived with because Motley always wanted to play with our cat,” Sharon says. “Motley just craved the cat’s food, just couldn’t wait untill the cat finished so she could go lick her bowl.”
There is more speculation between Jill and Sharon about the dogs’ former lives. Both agree that the act of being taken on a walk was foreign to Sally and Sue when they first got them from the Humane Society. Additionally, Sharon thinks the dogs may have gone to the bathroom on pads in the bedroom during the first part of their lives. She and Rick owned throw rugs, and Motley would pee on them when she first arrived at their home. Eventually they purchased a pad designed for peeing on in the house, which was handy to have when they went to work.
Sally is still breathing heavily and not the least bit relaxed as the four of us and our two dogs take a break near a park bench alongside Harrington Drive.
“When we got Motley, she had quit eating and just totally shut down,” Sharon says. “She was 10 pounds. Really underweight when we got her.”
Motley is now a healthy-looking dog that Sally cuddles up to on the park bench. Both dogs are atop Rick’s lap. Motley is looking away with her marble-like eyes as Sally has an expression on her face that can only be described as longing. Now up close and personal with Motley, sniffing her deeply and the like, Sally wants so bad for her sister to pay attention to her. Jill says Sally’s current state is similar to how she is when a person comes to our home.
“She gets riled up?” Sharon asks.
“Yeah,” Jill answers.
“If we have people …” Sharon begins.
“She’s more scared,” Rick finishes for her. “She’ll go hide under something.”
“I wish you were a little scared,” Jill tells Sally.
“She’ll go under a bed and bark,” Sharon says.
“Passive aggressive,” Rick states.
“She doesn’t have her bodyguard to take care of her anymore,” Jill says.
Jill’s observation makes me wonder: Was Sally a sort of bodyguard for her gray-haired sister back in the day?
Sally could just as easily have been Sharon and Rick’s dog instead of ours. Back in 2015, Sharon was viewing the Humane Society’s website during lunch at work one day and noticed Sally. She and Rick like furry-looking dogs, so they went to see the future dog of Jill and I with just minutes to spare before the Humane Society closed.
Sharon says Sally was one of numerous barking dogs she saw at the Humane Society that day, and that she was right at home in the rather chaotic environment. The lady from the Humane Society went to get Sally’s information and said Sharon could look at other dogs while she was gone.
“And so right beside [Sally] was this dog,” Sharon says. “I didn’t realize they were sisters. And she’s, you know, the dark little dog in the back of the kennel. And I went into the kennel and I’m like, ‘Hi, puppy.’ And she just crawled. She was so shut down, needing to get out of there. All the other dogs were barking. She just wanted out of there. So that’s why we took her home.”
Jill and I first saw Sally at the Humane Society on a Sunday, the same day that Sharon and Rick took Motley, then known as Sue, home.
Birds are chirping and Sally is calmer as we end up where we started, near our cars on the northeast side of Morrissey Park. Sally is smelling Motley like crazy, and Sharon observes that she can’t keep her eyes off her. Jill wonders aloud if the day’s reunion sparked recognition between the dogs.
We all say that we think it did, but the reality, based on the limited research that’s out there, is that it’s hard to know for certain if dogs remember their siblings when reuniting with them, especially after a certain number of years. But Sally sure seems like she remembers Motley Sue, or Motley Cute, as I like to call her.
In a playful voice, Jill asks Sally if she remembers her sister.
“I think so,” Sharon responds in an equally lighthearted way. “I bet they used to play.” Sharon says again that Motley just needs more time and is slow to warm up to other dogs.
“They just have completely different personalities,” Jill reasons. “Totally different personalities. And that’s okay.”
Top photo by Jill Nudo and final photo by Sharon Francis, altered by Jill Nudo. Other photo and video by Sal Nudo.