By Dan England
When Gina Lordo sighed, Andrea Dufford knew what she would say next about the dog cowering from her touch: Dufford was the dog’s last hope for adoption.
Lordo, a Loveland resident who fostered for Big Bones Canine Rescue out of rural Windsor, showed the senior dog to other prospects, but Viola treated them like masked men wielding machetes. Lordo had hope for Dufford, an older woman who had dogs her entire life and seemed about as threatening as a butterfly. Nope.
“She doesn’t warm up to anyone,” Lordo said. “She’ll probably never get adopted.”
But Dufford saw a kindred spirit in the shaking Viola. Dufford spent most of her life on an expansive farm before divorcing and moving to a patio home in Grand Junction. She was married for 20 years to someone who didn’t love dogs. Here’s what she says about that: “Thank God that’s been over for a while.”
Viola and Dufford preferred to be alone, or at least away from strangers. “Whelp,” Dufford said, “she’s coming home with me.”
When she brought her back to her home, Viola wandered through the door and saw a cat. This was the first test. The cat was a senior, too, with a demeanor that fit her simple name: Black Cat. Viola walked over and licked her whiskers. Black Cat looked at Dufford with wide, hopeful eyes. Yep, Dufford said. Black Cat and Dufford slept together that night. Viola still kept her distance from Dufford.
The term “Who Saved Who?” is so cliched now, it looks tired even on a T-shirt, something your aunt who has 40 cats would wear. But it’s appropriate for this relationship. Dufford saved Viola, but Viola also literally saved Dufford.
And yes, we’re using that term correctly.
Her “cup of love”
Dufford knew how to soothe worried souls. She found her last dog on her farm. The little black cattle dog kept away until Dufford set food out for her. Full and happy, she jumped on Dufford’s other dog. Dufford named her Half-Pint. She had her for 16 years.
After Half-Pint died, Dufford tried to resist another adoption. She was 63, and COVID-19 made it impossible to adopt in Grand Junction: No one would let anyone in a shelter or a foster home.
But dogs were her whole life, and it was lonely out there for Black Cat and for her without one.
Big Bones didn’t want to cooperate, either, until Dufford and her niece, who lived in Windsor, called them. When Dufford called, she said she wanted a senior dog no one else wanted: That’s always beautiful music to any adoption agency.
“Eventually, I won them over,” Dufford said of both Big Bones and Viola.
Winning over Viola was harder, but Dufford had time. She renamed her Cup, as a tribute to Half-Pint, and because the dog was her “cup of love.”
It sure didn’t seem that way at first. When she put her hand down, Cup lay down and shivered. Neighbors waved treats at her, but Cup ran away. The one time she said “No” to Cup, Cup collapsed on the ground and shook. Dufford gave her space and tried to let her know she was safe.
Cup eventually learned to enjoy the small yard out back, and the bed, and the visits from Dufford’s nieces and nephews, who were small and less threatening. She dug holes and hated baths and didn’t like riding in the car, but whatever. She went on walks. Black Cat made it clear Dufford was safe. Two months after she walked through the front door, Cup let Dufford pat her head.
They built a simple and quiet and comfortable life together, and nothing seemed like it could interfere with it, until a late summer day, when Dufford noticed a strange smell by her sink. She cleaned out the disposal but still smelled a faint odor after she closed up the house. Dufford didn’t worry too much about it: She didn’t use gas in her house.
However, Cup wouldn’t follow her to bed. That was strange. Cup always followed her to bed. The bed was Cup’s favorite spot. But she went to bed anyway.
She awoke a few hours later to a flurry of kisses. Cup was not a kisser, but she was bathing Dufford’s face in frantic swoops. When Dufford tried to shoo her away, Cup put all her weight, about 45 pounds, on Dufford’s chest and looked up at the bedroom air vent and started whining.
Then she began tugging on Dufford’s pants. Dufford sat up and smelled something bad. She got out of bed while Cup nosed Black Cat awake. She opened the sliding door, and the fresh air, full of life, hit her in the nose. She called Xcel Energy and waited outside, in the rain, for an hour.
The Xcel worker told her there was indeed a gas leak, but it was outside, next to the air conditioning. Apparently, the AC was capturing the leak and blowing it into her house. Somehow Cup knew something was wrong and decided to save her adopted family. Cup even let the Xcel worker pet her: She knew the man was there to help them.
“I don’t think I would have woken up on my own,” Dufford said. “What would have happened?”
She probably would have died, she admits.
She remains anti-social, she said. She doesn’t live a life that everyone would enjoy. That’s OK. It’s a longer life than she may have had otherwise.
“It’s my life,” she said, “and I love it. I’m just so happy to have Cup to share it with.”