WATER VALLEY – Dog days of August and September come and go. Dog days of summer stay for Nancy and Don Giles. They host an animal shelter of their own – not of their own choosing, but dogs and cats just gravitate to their door step.
In 2001, when Don retired as director of manufacturing and procurement for Uvtec Corp. in Arlington, Texas, an area of six million people located north of Ft. Worth, Don and his wife, Nancy, two dogs and three cats, moved out in the country near Water Valley. “Though we both grew on farms in southeast Minnesota and still have one daughter, Sandra, in Rochester, Minnesota, with five grandchildren also living in Minnesota, and a son, Steve, who lives in Indiana, we moved near our youngest daughter of Oxford, where she is a speech pathologist at Baptist Memorial Hospital. Our granddaughter is an Ole Miss student,” said Don.
“Soon after relocating here, we’d buy dog food at a bent and dent store between here and Oxford. One day we spotted a puppy with a lame leg near the store,” he said. “The owner said that the dog had been tossed our at a neighbor’s home the night before and that his neighbor planned to shoot the dog if she stayed around his place. So we brought the pup home with us. For three years, I’d rub her lame leg several times a day until it finally healed. After it healed, she’d still walk up to me, hold up her right rear leg to be massaged.” Now, Maggie joins Don before daylight on his two-mile walks.
Continuing the animal saga, Nancy said,” I walked out in the courtyard on a misty rainy morning and there stood two mangy dogs. I yelled at them, ‘we don’t need any more dogs.’ Both ran off but one turned around, came back and sat on my foot. Eddie’s been my baby ever since. When he’d been here about a week, we stopped by homes up and down our road to ask if anyone had lost their dog. No one had.”
Taking up the story, Don continued, “We left home that day with one dog and returned with three. Along the road, we found two starving ditch dogs, three or four months old. They were just skeletons covered with fur. Their backbones looked like dinosaurs. They were infested with ticks, fleas and worms. Now, they are 75-pound bundles of enthusiasm and affection. We call them Chester and Barney, the deputies.”
On Thanksgiving a few years ago, their dog, Maggie, on her morning run, returned with a shy, small black lab that had been sitting at the edge of their driveway. Number five, she’s Daisy. “We figured that a college student going home for the holidays left her,”said Nancy.
“About 8:30 one evening in April, I walked to the front door and opened it, something that I never do, but just felt led to do,”said Nancy. “Standing there was a dog, all legs and ears. I scooped him up in my arms.” He’s Dreyfus, number six.”
The dogs have a fenced half acre where they spend their days after morning walks. In the evening, they come in the house and go into their individual kennels, with the exception of Maggie, the oldest, who has the run of the property. “Every 10 days, we open 50 pounds bags of dog food. The dogs are fed twice daily. all six have been neutered, vaccinated, treated for heart worms and given annual shots,” said Don. “Considering the six dogs and six cats, I guess we spend about $5,000 on food, annual checkups at the vet, plus other animal costs.”
“At this stage of our lives, we can’t travel because of Nancy’s allergies, so we get all wrapped up in God’s little creatures and feel that it’s our calling. They all have their problems but that’s what we’re here for,”he said. “It breaks my heart to see the way that people neglect their animals. Our roads are littered with uncared for animals. On our trip to Oxford recently, we saw three dead dogs.”
Nancy confesses that she was a “cat person” and Don was the “dog person” but after 55 years of marriage, they both are equally smitten. “If you can’t sleep, the best lullaby is a cat purring beside you,” said Don. “Our cats have none of this kitty, kitty, kitty,” added Nancy. “Each one is called by name and all need individual attention. Each is combed daily to remove snarls in long hair and to find ticks and injuries. The dogs are brushed once a week except our long haired dog who need brushing daily.”
Cast off cat, Charlie, was rescued by a prior owner who kept him in a cage. When he was given to the Giles, his muscle structure was so weak that he couldn’t jump so he was homebound until he was strong enough to be outside. “He’s 12 now and knows that he’s the only cat we really need,” said Don.
“In the Dollar General parking lot, we found a small dirty kitten screaming her head off so we picked her up,” explained Nancy. “She was so small she could curl up in a cereal bowl.” Later they learned that she was a Main coon, commonly called Hemingway cats for author, Ernest Hemingway, who owned many of them at his home in Key West, Fla. They are polydactyl, having six toes. Now Sally weighs 15 pounds.
A friend asked Don to rescue a crying kitten from a blackberry patch. When free of the brambles, Don was encouraged to take the calico kitten home with him. His name is Ernie. “Ernie is the favorite animal among the dogs and cats. He gets along with all of them,” Don said. “All of our animals are great conversationalists. We talk to them and they talk back to us,” Nancy said. “Ernie follows me where ever I go and what every I do. When I go into the kitchen to cook, he follows and advises me.”
“Homer appeared one night and kept company with our blind dog, Banchie, before he died. She loves being around the dogs,” said Don. “Midnight followed one of our cats home and stayed. Both Homer and Midnight were outside cats for about a year while they were getting accustomed to our animals here and had taken all of their shots.”
One day, Nancy opened the garage door and saw a tiny stray kitten that she decided must be a few months old. After a vet’s examination, she learned that the four pound malnourished cat, covered with wolf worms, was about a year old and already had birthed a litter of kittens. “After $300 and a little love, Matilda weighs 10 pounds now,”said Nancy.
“Our cat, Midnight, must wear a watch,”said Nancy. He nudges me at 4 a.m. to go outside.””Daisy starts barking at 5 to go out,”added Don. “The choir starts at 5:30. Two howls and the rest just bark.”
When their daughter, Suzanne Black and granddaughter, Elizabeth, traveled to Niagara Falls in July, the Giles went to Oxford daily to feed their six cats and brought their five dogs and two more foster dogs to Water Valley. “In addition to caring for our animals, we walked their seven dogs five times a day,” said Nancy. “Needless to say, we were happy when their vacation was over.”
Caring for their critters is not their only tasks at home. They raise a large vegetable garden, landscape their grounds, adding plants and shrubs, to the many that they transplanted from their prior homes. In addition, Don has served on the Yalobusha Board of Directors of Habitat for Humanity and Fuller Center for Housing, and as president of Lafayette County Master Gardeners for two years. They are members of First Presbyterian Church in Oxford.
While they lived in Cape Girardeau, Missouri for five years, Nancy shuffled passengers from St. Louis and Memphis airports. Now, a self-taught artist, she paints realistic landscapes, flowers, and mountain scenes as gifts for family members. Several of her paintings and birdhouses are currently on display at Renasant Bank.