3am. Winter night, 3 years ago. THIS HAPPENED.

This is the single biggest reason every family needs a dog.

It’s a Sunday in the wee hours – our dog Frankie jumps out of  bed (yes, he sleeps with us) and goes to the closed bedroom door and starts growling at it. It’s not a sound we’ve ever heard him make before. It starts getting louder, more frantic, until he’s quickly in a full bark mode. Thinking that he’s just thirsty, and still half asleep, I crack the door so he can get a drink.

He lunges out, goes straight past his water and runs to the closed door in the adjoining room, and starts wildly scratching the door (another thing we’ve never seen him do). Okay. I probably should not have fed him the jalapeno hamburger earlier. Now he must really need to go out. So I opened the next door for him leading into the main lodge.

But instead of high tailing it out, he freezes.

He drops to the floor in a belly crawl position and whimpers quietly. Then he starts to growl. Then he  crawl towards the next door downstairs. whimper. Growl. Sniff. Whimper. Growl. Sniff.

I’m 1000 percent awake now, because he’s now baring his teeth and every hair on his body is now standing at attention. Oh my god. it hits me. There must be a rodent in the house. A rabid raccoon. Or something bigger. A fox? A coyote? Shit. Whatever it is, I hope it doesn’t have rabies.

The thought of a rabid mammal has me super freaked out now, because Frankie has now taken his strange behavior to an new lever. He’s now on his hind legs sniffing and snarling at the air.

He leads me through lodge, down the stairs, through kitchen. And then abruptly comes to a dead stop at the kitchen door entrance. He’s now in full arched-back, hair-on-end, growling, teeth baring attack position, clearly staring down something just in front of him (that I can’t see because its ‘s obstructed by the half kitchen wall).

I am so not going to go in there and see what it is. Which I’m positive is either a man-sized raccoon, or a ghost. In my super rational state, it could obviously only be one of those options.

Ok, now I’m done. I sprint back upstairs to get David.

After some persuading, David – still half asleep – grabs a baseball bat and heads downstairs, convinced that I’ve been dreaming and just completely nuts. I’m staying to watch the baby (Charlie was only months old at the time).

Minutes go by and I am now positive that David is in some sort of tangle with ghosts and/or a rabid woodland creature.  He’s probably lying in a pool of blood with a psycho-raccoon on his neck. Or headed into the woods trying to track whatever was just in the house. Now I’m regretting every bad summer camp horror flick Ive ever seen, because they always start out this way. Just as I start to head for the door, David walks in, white and completely wide-eyed.

“Get dressed- the cops are on the way.”

He tells me that Frankie led him through the house, just as he had  me, to a back room, where he found open boxes of booze & bottles and random things boxed and stacked on the bed, scattered debris across the floor, open drawers. And an open window.

Within minutes the house is crawling with officers.

We all huddle around the security camera monitor together. And there he was. A guy in full ski mask, a backpack full of tools on his shoulder, stalking his way around the perimeter of the house, testing his pry-bar on windows and doors, until he found one he could jimmy open.

This was him. The guy in the kitchen that Frankie had the stare-down with.

By this time, it’s 5 am, Frankie is perched in the middle of the kitchen, getting praise and ear-scratches from all directions. Treats and compliments from this swarm of armed sheriff’s deputies. They tell us stories of other dogs they’ve seen protect their homes and families. Tonight, they are all telling us the same thing:

You’ve got a great dog here.

He did his job, he’s a good boy.

He was watching out for you.

Your dog was protecting his family.

He’s a keeper.

 They say dogs can smell fear. Something about pheromones released in the air. Everyone thinks their dog has superpowers. The fastest, smartest, trained to retrieve without biting, and do back-flips. We’ve never attributed any super-skills to Frankie.  He’s a timid rescue from a high-kill shelter with a gray beard that is always full of something. He’s not a strong swimmer and will never, ever bring the ball back to you. But that night he was our superhero. The fact that Frankie could smell this guy’s ill-intentions from a hundred yards away, and lead us to him, and then scared him away – literally, the footage shows the invader falling out the window on his head trying to get away – made us damned proud to call him our dog. We didn’t know he had it in him. You can never underestimate the power and loyalty your family dog is capable of.

Flash forward 3 years. Frankie still does not leave Charlie’s side.

Every day since (like yesterday morning when we took these pictures) the two of them are a tangle of fur and pillows. As the sun pops up, Frankie licks her face awake.

Now that he’s getting older, he has become even more protective of his house and family– especially Charlie. He sleeps at the front door to “stand guard” when David is out of town for work. He insists on standing between her and any imposing obstacle, whether its a stranger, a big dog or a busy street.

We don’t know what we’ll do when he’s gone. The thought it pretty unbearable, actually. So for now, we’ll continue to let him sleep in our bed, sneak hot dogs from the wiener roasts, jump on the couch, and watch over Charlie every single day & night.

He’s a keeper, indeed.

We adopted Frankie just in time. We encourage folks to not only find their own Frankie, but find their forever dog at a shelter rather than a puppy mill. Listen to hear Frankie’s rescue story on Why We Rescue & see Theron Humprie’s photo essay on Frankie as Wisconsin’s official rescue dog story. And special thanks to the volunteers at The Fluffy Dog Rescue, that saved Frankie, and brought him into our lives.