When I was young, my brothers and I had a little dog named Cree. She was a mutt; that much is certain. Yet, she was beautiful as any pure-breed show dog. Although she had the same general appearance as an Irish setter, she was small and her fur was black. Cree was fun-loving and would romp and play like any dog, but she also had a quiet grace and gentle brown eyes, full of love for us. She made no secret of that love.

If I was ever sad, weighed down by pre-teen blues or feeling unfairly singled out by fate, she could tell. Cree would press her small body against me and offer comfort. If I was happy, she shared my joy with unselfish abandon. My brothers and I adored her.

Next door lived another small dog, Thunder. He shared mutt status with Cree and they were great friends. I have no idea what kind of dog he was. Thunder was brown and white, with perky pointed ears, and a solid little body. He and Cree played together every chance they got, and often just lay in the grass side by side, enjoying the sunshine and their own companionship.

One summer evening, we realized we hadn’t seen Cree for a while. Off and on, we went to the door and called for her. But she didn’t appear. Worry ate at us. We were about ready to search the neighborhood for her when Thunder came barreling around the corner of the house, barking like crazy. Then, he would turn and head for the garage. We didn’t know what to make of this behavior. He did it several times, stopping on the way and looking over his shoulder. It finally dawned on us he wanted to be followed. I hadn’t seen anything like it outside of movies and television shows.

My brothers and I leaped off the porch and took off after Thunder. He led us to the detached garage on our property and ran inside the door. When we got inside, we saw what Thunder had been trying to tell us. There on the cushioned seat of my brother’s go-cart was Cree. She had been injured and the back half of her was covered in blood.

Horrified, I knelt down beside her. She looked up at me with trusting eyes, and I began to sob. Her injuries were very severe, the damage extensive. I won’t even go into detail because the details are gruesome and heart-wrenching, but I was stunned that Cree had been able to drag herself back home from wherever she had been hurt. It was obvious she had been hit by a car.

We called our mother at work and she came home so we could take Cree to a vet. We lifted the entire cushion from the go-cart to carry her to the car so we wouldn’t hurt her any worse. Her eyes were very moist as if she were about to cry, but they still held that gentle trusting look.

The vet couldn’t save Cree. We stumbled from his office blinded by grief. Only later did I recall the heroic actions of Thunder, the dog who knew he had to get us into that garage so we could help his friend.

Years later, I still marvel at the mental processes and logic that Thunder exhibited that night. Anyone who thinks dogs are not capable of rational thought has not spent enough time around them. Thunder understood we were looking for Cree; I believe he recognized her name when we called it. He realized his friend was in trouble and he knew he had to get the humans involved. His actions were deliberate and intended to produce a result. Time after time, he barked to get our attention and then ran around the corner trying to get us to follow. Thunder didn’t give up. He kept doing it until we finally responded. Thunder was a hero that day. Shame on us for thinking at the time that he was just acting silly, for not taking him seriously.

In our own defense, had we followed Thunder the first time, it would not have changed the outcome. Cree could not have survived no matter what, but we could have shortened her suffering by at least half an hour.

Thunder demonstrated very human-like qualities that night. Not only did he recognize the gravity of the situation, but he formulated a plan and carried it through. He didn’t sit idly by. When he led us to Cree’s side, his eyes brimmed with compassion and an urgent plea for us to do something.

My co-author and I love animals and wanted to include at least one dog story in our book. When I penned the tale of the stray dog, Belle, for our book Catch Her in the Rye, I kept Thunder in mind and imbued Belle with the ability to grasp human situations and to perceive beyond words. Belle had that capacity for empathy and comfort-giving that is innate in our canine friends. In spite of the many fictional characters we create, Belle remains one of our favorites. But she is based on a real-life dog, who was a hero in his own small way, one dark night so many years ago.