The old yellow Lab staggers down the middle of the country road on New Year's Day. Bewildered, footsore and covered in mud.

The old yellow Lab staggers down the middle of the country road on New Year's Day. Bewildered, footsore and covered in mud.

Her weary brown eyes gaze straight into my heart through the front windshield as I barrel to a stop and hop out.

"Hey there, girlie. You need to get out of the road," I say, placing a comforting hand on her big, blocky head.

She couldn't agree more. With a heavy sigh, she ambles over to my open driver's door and carefully places her two front paws on the running board. Then she freezes, waiting hopefully for a boost up.

I look up and down the two-lane country road. A couple more cars come by. But no one else is stopping this frosty afternoon.

With a little assist from me, and a couple grunts from her, we are both back toodling along the path to my sister's place.

"Been out all night, huh. Did the fireworks scare you?" I ask the shivering, collarless dog, flipping the heater on high.

Sis and I give her some water and a couple doggy biscuits, as I ponder the options.

Since it's a holiday, and the shelter is closed, I decide to take her home with me that night. And figure the rest out in the morning.

My green-eyed moggy, Squiggy, isn't going to be pleased. But Grammy Grumbles, as I've already dubbed the venerable pooch, needs somewhere soft to sleep. And I need a doggy fix.

It's been four years since my beloved border collie, St. Twirley Jane, ascended to that Great Kennel in the Sky. And there is something about this old girl that reminds me of her. Twirley was once a lost dog herself. Till we found each other.

I stop at the store on the way home and pick up a couple of cans of good dog food while she snoozes peacefully in the car. Once home, I slip the leash I always carry in my car around the Lab's thick neck and help her down to the ground. We slowly make our way across the lawn to gaze at the river.

Water centers me. I figure she'd enjoy the view, too, being a Lab. She peers down at the rushing water, then back up at me.

"C'mon in the cottage, Grammy. It's too cold to stand around."

I already know I'm going to foster her until I can find her owners. Now to explain things to the cat. And explain the two parrots to the dog. Hopefully Grammy is hard of hearing, and smart enough to keep her tail tucked safely away from naughty beaks.

Up goes the baby gate safely sequestering Squiggy in the bedrooms, and Grammy in the kitchen and living room with me. Down goes the sheepskin rug on top of the carpet. Out comes the brush. She's a stinky, muddy lady. But it's too late for a bath tonight.

She sleeps like a rock. Gently snoring. Never moving off the rug. Squiggy stays glued to my side in the bed. Her vivid green eyes reflecting a mixture of feline horror and disgust with her human.

"I believe I have made myself perfectly clear regarding my position on dogs," she hisses. "Do I need to poop ON the bed, instead of just under it?"

In the morning, I call the county shelter, explain Grammy's sitch, and post a photo of the lost Lab. Then call my vet to get Grammy scanned for a microchip. And make an appointment at the groomer's for that bath.

But my phone begins ringing within minutes after the shelter opens. The first call is the right one.

"I can describe my dog," the woman says, her voice filled with anxiety and hope.

All three of their dogs had bolted on New Year's Eve. The younger Lab had come safely home. The second, a husky mix, had been picked up and was at the shelter. Grammy's name was Vegas, and her husband was on his way.

"Thank you for taking her in. I was so afraid she was gone for good," the woman says, referring to her dog's advanced age, need for medications, and the below-freezing temperatures.

Still exhausted, Grammy Vegas only blinks once when I give her the good news. Then dozes off again.

But minutes later a rap on the door raises her yellow head. She peers around hopefully. Sees her person. And her heart finds its way home before she can even make it to her feet.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or