Spirit Animal: Author to read in Northville from novel about her special golden retriever

Photo Caption: Author Patricia Nugent and Dolly. Provided

By Andrew Waite/The Leader-Herald

NORTHVILLE — Patricia Nugent didn’t want a puppy. It was 2009, and Nugent had recently retired from her career as a school district administrator. She had just built a house on the Great Sacandaga Lake, and she was very much looking forward to relaxing days spent writing. 

But then a well-meaning colleague gifted her a golden retriever puppy. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight. Dolly did her business on the new carpet, and the dog’s sensitive digestive system required Nugent to cook special meals like boiled chicken, pumpkin and collard greens.

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“I was becoming her nursemaid, her chef, her cleanup crew,” Nugent said. “It felt like I had taken on another full-time job.” 

Nugent wanted to re-home Dolly. In fact, she was very much actively looking for a way to find Dolly a new home when the 12-week-old puppy fell off the deck.

The fall happened one late-August twilight when Nugent called to Dolly from below the deck, and the puppy, afraid of stairs, looked for another way down. She was so small she fit beneath the space below the bottom railing, and she fell from 12 feet up, slamming into the hard ground. 

Nugent panicked. The dog lay motionless, her legs splayed. 

“I thought she was paralyzed,” Nugent recalls.

Alone, Nugent did what felt right. She is a reiki practitioner who believes in spiritual forces. For Nugent, it’s not woo-woo stuff, just faith in the power of the universe, faith in forces like the healing properties of water. So Nugent decided to take Dolly into the lake. Nugent marched to the shore, stepping into the water, not bothering to remove her jeans or T-shirt. And she prayed. 

“I prayed and I promised the universe that I would do something good if Dolly survived,” Nugent recalled. “I was in the lake, fully dressed, just holding her and telling her that I loved her. This was after weeks of not wanting her in my life.” 

But Dolly didn’t do much more than whimper. Nugent decided she needed to take Dolly to a veterinary clinic. She set the limp dog down, went into the house to get her keys, and when she came back outside, Dolly wasn’t there.   

“I was certain a hawk or a coyote had taken her,” she said. 

Then the motion light flipped on. Dolly was alive and active. At the veterinary clinic, Nugent learned that, miraculously, Dolly was completely fine. 

And so began Nugent’s new life as Dolly’s dog mom. The journal entries that Nugent wrote during this time eventually inspired her to compose her new novel, “Healing with Dolly Lama: Finding God in Dog.” Nugent will read from her book on Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Northville Public Library. 

This is Nugent’s third book. Her first book, “They Live On: Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad,” published in 2010, told the story of her elderly parents’ end-of-life path, and her second book, “Before They Were Our Mothers,” published in 2018, offers true stories of pioneering women who predate Rosie the Riveter. 

Nugent said she learned many lessons from Dolly, including that “our unwanted gifts often become our greatest treasures,” she said. “Often, the lessons that we learn from these gifts are immeasurable.”  

Though Dolly never exactly transformed into a model of obedience, Nugent said Dolly’s companionship helped Nugent cope with some of life’s biggest strugglesthe loss of her parents, divorce. As a result, Nugent has turned some of her focus to helping dogs stay healthier. That’s why she fundraises for the Morris Animal Foundation (morrisanimalfoundation.org), which since 1948 has given $155 million to 2,700 studies that help advance scientific breakthroughs in diagnostics, treatments and preventions to benefit animals. 

Dolly became Nugent’s “heart dog,” her spirit animal. Nugent decided to add “Lama” to Dolly’s name after the fall. Nugent says she knows some people will be skeptical, but she believes her connection to Dolly transcends the physical world. She believes this because, after a recent reading of Healing with Dolly Lama, she returned to her house on Great Sacandaga Lake and stared at the water while thinking of Dolly. That’s when she noticed a floating orange blobsimilar to Dolly’s coloring. When the blob got near shore, Nugent scooped it up. The blob was a T-shirt for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. And it said, “We are their voice.” For Nugent, it was an especially poignant moment. 

The universe does give us what we need, even if we don’t know it’s what we need,” she said. “Healing can come from an unexpected source.”

The reading at the library is sponsored by the Sacandaga Valley Arts Network, and 20% of all book sales will be donated to that nonprofit. Refreshments will be served; masks are requested. For more information about the book or the program, email HWDollyLama@gmail.com or visit the book’s Facebook page.

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By LH Staff

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