The Kindness of Strangers

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne


For any of you who are on Facebook with me, you will know that last week I had a great deal to be thankful for, especially as a result of the kindness of strangers. 

The drama occurred last Wednesday when one of my neighbors (1st stranger really, as I don’t know him very well) knocked at my door around 7:30 in the morning to tell me that he had just seen our beloved collie, Hamish (as shown in photo above), being lured up the road by two coyotes. I rushed outside (very glamorous in my PJs and dressing gown) to see the most surreal scene –  two coyotes nearly at the end of our street cunningly leading my dog along to what I have no doubt would have been a nasty end. I never truly believed all the stories about coyotes working together to lure large dogs away to be attacked by the pack – but I do now. 

In a panic I called out after Hamish, who initially looked back at me with a face that said “are you kidding me, I’m having way too much fun!”. By this time my neighbor was running to his car, ready to help – because we both could see that Hamish was way too far away for me to get to him. It took me four attempts (and a lot of willpower not to scream at my dog) before Hamish turned reluctantly to come back to me. That was when the next stranger came in – running down her driveway to help coax Hamish and grab his collar. I’d never met her before, and although it was a little weird meeting in the circumstances (both in our PJs – saving my dog from coyotes!) I was touched by her concern. She was already on the phone to animal control telling them to send a patrol – having not only seen the amazing sight of two coyotes ‘playing’ with a collie but also making the decision to actively come outside and help rescue him.

So as you can see I have a lot to thank two relative strangers and this got me thinking, especially as this is Thanksgiving week, about the difference strangers can make. In my writing career I have been amazed how people who I’ve often never met, have gone out of their way to help me – be it booksellers, readers, conference organizers, blogger or reviewers. Although I’ve always tried to thank each person individually, I would also like to take this time to acknowledge how much we, as writers, rely on the kindness of strangers. I don’t mean that in a ‘taking pity’ kind of way – I mean those active, ‘go out of your way’ actions that can often make all the difference to a writing career. All too often we have no way to repay these acts of kindness, except (I hope) by following their example and helping other writers in our midst.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, which ‘stranger’ would you thank if you could? Have you ever experienced a moment such as mine, where the kindness of strangers really made all the difference (and there is no doubt in my mind that without them Hamish would have been lost forever)? Well, now is the time, to acknowledge those moments. We should also aspire to be these sort of strangers – the ones who don’t stand idly by – but who rush in to help when help is needed. 

Oh, and as a side note, this morning we received a ‘coyote’ calling card in the form of someone’s dead chicken disemboweled on our lawn. I swear I feel like I’m suddenly in some kind of ‘coyote godfather’ movie…thank goodness we have strangers looking out for us!

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34 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers

  1. Hamish is one lucky dog. I didn’t know coyotes did that but it makes sense, as horrible as it is. That would’ve terrified me, to think my beloved dogs could be lured to become a pack meal. *shiver*

    You have a lot to be thankful for, Clare. It’s time you invite those good neighbors over for a drink & get to know them better. Wow, what a story.

  2. Claire, thank you for sharing that wonderful story. Hamish is a lucky dog, as they say. Maybe someday you’ll have the opportunity to return the favor to your wonderful neighbors.

    • Joe – last summer I helped find owners for two dogs I found wandering so I’m relieved that I could help then – now I know more about what could have happened to them!

  3. I would bake those neighbours cookies – and I hate baking. SO glad Hamish had the good sense to turn back, how heartbreaking would that have been, to watch him walk away!!

    We have the same problem, especially with the coyotes grabbing cats. All cats in our neighbourhood are indoor cats. Our Maple is not a small dog, Labradoodle, but I have a fit every time she takes off after the coyotes or foxes. She stops at the bush line and comes home but I never know whether to give her heck or thank her for chasing away the predators.

    So many people to thank, and I hope I mentioned most of them in my acknowledgements, but I’d also like to add a big THANKS to the readers leaving reviews for A Bother of Bodies on Amazon.ca and Amazon.com. No idea how to thank them for taking the time…unless I can do it on my author page. I’ll have to check that out.

    • I always find (at this time of year particularly) it’s wonderful to take the time to think about all those people who have helped you out – professionally or otherwise:)

  4. You have officially lived through Chapter One of a Stephen King novel. My advice: Don’t turn the page.

    Seriously, glad Hamish is safe and sound, and that neighborliness still comes out in time of need.

  5. Wow, what a chilling story. (I have two dogs, one about the size of a ferret who has tried to take on Great Danes.) As James sez, this reads like the beginning of a horror story.

    This said, my “stranger” would be my eighth grade teacher Miss Gentry who was the first person to told me I could write. Twenty-odd years later, I dedicated my first book to her and managed to track her down (retired) and thank her before she died.

  6. I grew up in the mountains with few neighbors. I live in the middle of nowhere on the prairie today. Most incidents of kindness received and given was from neighbors, familiar faces that filled me with relief when I had a flat or slid into the ditch and they appeared out of nowhere to save the day.

    However, I have a very distinct memory of a stranger helping someone. It was my dad helping a man neither of us knew.

    I grew up in Colorado with a strong immigrant population. I don’t know how many were there legally or not but I do know that most of them were valued members of the community, quiet, hardworking people.

    One Friday afternoon, my dad took me along to run some errands in town. I sat in the car and waited for him as he went into the bank. While he was gone, a man with a little girl came out. He was clearly very upset; weeping and talking to himself in rapid fire Spanish. His little girl’s big eyes looked even more enormous in the face of her father’s obvious distress.

    I saw all this in moments before my dad came out and caught up with the man. Now, my father is a gifted bilingual. I watched him speak to the man and lead him and the little girl back inside.

    I could tell that my father was also very upset, but when the three of them came back out of the bank all three were smiling. They shook hands and parted.

    It turns out that the man was trying to cash a check issued from that very bank, but because he spoke little English, the teller refused to help him. My father had witnessed it and said that it was clear what the man wanted, but that the teller wasn’t willing to really listen.

    It took my dad standing up for the man to get him the money he needed to feed his family. I learned a lot that day from that brief interaction. Sometimes people aren’t helpful even when its their job to be. Sometimes being different can be frightening and unfair. And sometimes, you meet a stranger who speaks for you. My dad was the best stranger I ever knew.

  7. Oh, yeah. They’re out there Clare, and that’s not all. Very recently I sent around a link describing the 2,000 coyotes living in Chicago. We hear ’em up on the mountain at night calling out to all the creatures of the night. Whoo-hooo! Then there’s the mountain lions. Yep. They really are lions. Calling ’em cats just diminishes what you’re faced with if you run into one of them on the prowl. Bears, too. Saying this like it’s some kind of after-thought. Had one snacking on a plastic bag in the middle of the night next to me house. Scared my friend so bad he couldn’t speak. And he’s a combat vet.

    Did you know that the “cats” are all over Vancouver Island–especially Victoria. One was trapped in the underground parking garage at the Empress Hotel. Nobody said a word to us as we went trutzing off into the night for a nice stroll around the harbor.

    A nice thing you find up here in the mountains is that most everyone tries to help each other out, in spite of all that other stuff we grumble over.

  8. How creepy with the coyotes. I’m glad we don’t have them in Florida, although Central Florida has a bear problem. You are fortunate to have nice neighbors.

    • Hate to tell you, Nancy, but we do have coyotes up here in north Florida, right near the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve seen them and know they’ve done away with several cats in the neighborhood. They used to come into the neighborhood where I lived in an Atlanta suburb too. They’ll eat anything – dead or alive and don’t let size deter them. I read where a pack of them will take down a horse. Bad creatures! Clare, thank God your neighbors saw what was happening and saved Hamish from a terrible fate.

  9. I’m happy to hear that Hamish came back. He’s beautiful, by the way.

    I’ve never heard of coyotes luring dogs away. I’ve seen the stories here in southern California where they drag 2 year old children from their yards. All of the stories I’ve read so far indicate that a parent came outside and saw what was going on before the child was completely out of the yard.

    A Bobcat killed the Boston Terrier of someone who lives in my town. I wouldn’t have known about it, but the family hung fliers warning everyone. The adult dog and a puppy were in a yard with a 6 ft fence/wall. The family said the animal had to get through 2 other yards to get to theirs and it came back three times over a two hour period. Looking for its kill, I assume. That’s another thing that appears to be common if they’re interrupted before they can eat the pet. Remember that.

    There have been stories of mountain lions jumping walls/fences and killing dogs, even large dogs like German Shepherds and Labs. In the case of the Lab, the mountain was seen jumping over the fence with the dog in its mouth. I believe the dog weighed 80 pounds. Scary! They found what was left of the Lab a few blocks away in some brush a couple of weeks later.

    I’m glad your dog is safe. It’s a wake up call to all of us with pets. You have good neighbors.

  10. I hope you will take my words here seriously. If you live in a semi-rural or semi-urban area, and you have a coyote infestation, then I hope you will consider that there are bigfoots nearby. Bigfoots seem to follow coyotes. I don’t know why that happens, but I have run across that scenario in a number of situations.

    I did not really know whether to believe in bigfoots. But my current novel is about a little boy who may have been killed by the same serial killer that killed his mother, or he may have been abducted by a bigfoot.

    Good fictional supposition, right? Well, since I began with that simple premise, I have been doing a lot of armchair research on bigfoots. Here is one conclusion that I have come to: people who live in urban areas, and many people who live in rural or semi-rural areas often scoff at the idea that bigfoots exist because they have never encountered them.

    On the other hand, I have run across many instances of people who live in rural areas who have come to know about bigfoots because they have encountered them.

    Whether or not you believe in bigfoots, you have had a coyote experience. Please be careful.

    • There are many things that the ‘scientific community’ are quick to scoff at Jim. But anyone who has spent enough time in the wilderness quickly learns there are things that defy textbook explanations, and there are plenty living things of all shapes and sizes that are not as extinct or fantastical as we’ve been told. Many of my Alaska Native family and friends have told stories that would make a skeptic laugh, but when an entire village says they saw something, and individuals from different villages can sketch out drawings of the same thing that match you begin to believe.

  11. What a beautiful Collie! So glad your story has a happy ending.

    We live on a wooded acreage semi-rurally and have to share it with occasional wildlife. (Just two nights ago we had a black bear rampaging on our back deck.) Our neighbour has lost two cats and a cairn terrier to the coyotes, and now keeps all pets indoors or on their gated deck except when on escorted walks.

    I’ve had Shelties and Labradors, usually in multiples, and am a strong believer that dogs should never have an opportunity to wander, even in rural situations or when they normally would stay close to home. The lure (and risk) of wildlife, whether it’s a rabbit, coyote or bear, can be too great for even the best trained dog, and a kindly neighbour might not always be around. Since we couldn’t possibly fence our entire property, we built a 40×50′ fenced dog yard attached to one end of the house, and I feel much better about our dogs’ security… although I know it wouldn’t keep bears out!

    • We have a fence but contractors left a gate open – now I’m going to padlock it! I’ve also bought a TAGG tracker collar for Hamish – which goes to show how neurotic I’ve become!

  12. Clare–thanks for a great story, one that fits the season very well. I’m a dog nut (I wrote a book about them, called Just Bill), and I’m especially glad to know that Hamish, with a lot of help from your (new) friends, is safe.
    It’s an odd thing, how many people these days–many of them seemingly sane–are committed to long-disproved theories of social Darwinism. They won’t agree that’s what they believe, but it is: every man for himself, survival of the fittest, the poor are poor because they’re lazy, you take care of yourself and I’ll take care of myself, etc.
    But here’s the thing, and your story is just one more good example: who doesn’t know when kindness is shown to him, and who doesn’t know when kindness is withheld? This means kindness must be so deep-rooted that it has a function in the great scheme of things–that would be in terms of Darwin. If true, acts of kindness aren’t aberrations. The reality is, we are all in this thing together, and I think that’s what the spontaneous acts of kindness shown to strangers is about..

  13. Coyotes and wolves are the thugs of the canine world. We have that same issue here in Anchorage Alaska with both species of dog luring and ambushing their cousins around the city. Scary stuff. Glad your neighbors were willing to step in and help.

  14. Hamish is fortunate to have you and those awesome strangers in time of need. I had no clue that coyotes did that. Very scary.

    My wonderful strangers were truck drivers, a married couple on the interstate when a girlfriend and I were driving back to WVU in 1978 and the roads turned to ice causing a domino effect of accidents. We jumped out of the car and ran across an ice covered road as a massive tractor trailer crashed into the car we’d been in just moments before. It was hours before we got out of there but thankfully we had a nice couple keeping us safe and warm in their tractor trailer.

    Thank God for people who care.

  15. A young fellow, his wife and little baby stopped their truck to help us. We were stuck in April slush in an area with no cellphone service. They almost got stuck trying to pull us out. Then they drove me down the mountain to a restaurant where a tow truck was just sitting there. Lucky me. Thing was that this young couple put themselves and their baby in jeopardy to help a stranger. I’m sure they never gave any kind of risk to themselves a moment’s consideration.

    It’s strange up in the mountains. People leave their doors unlocked, good stuff in the front yard, vehicles with the motor running and nobody inside, pickups parked downtown with tools and stuff in the back.

    Well, not me. That’s for sure. But I will stop by to save you.

  16. Clare I don’t know as much about coyotes as I do maddened Clowns, but I had a friend in Key West who had a chicken thrown in her front yard. Its been was painted the friend’s favorite color of toe nail polish. she had to spend two weeks in bed with a necklace of garlic. Chickens in your front yard is bad ju ju in Key West. But thankfully you don’t live in Florida. But all us got that good streak that comes out from time to time with neighbors.

  17. We have so many coyotes around here (northern NH) that the locals go coyote hunting, and unlike deer or moose, there is no limit or time restraint. I never could relate before, they look so much like the family members we cherish, but your post has opened my eyes. I still couldn’t watch though.

  18. Claire, what a scary experience. And how appropriate to share it on this Thanksgiving week. I’m glad to hear that you were able to rescue Hamish from the coyotes.

    As to your question: What stranger would you thank, if you could? When I was three years old my parents lived in Indianapolis along the railroad tracks. The train traffic was very heavy. We had a fence to keep me corralled. But one day, when my mother heard a train whistle, she glanced out the window to make sure I was in the backyard. To her horror the gate was open and I was missing. She went screaming out the back door, searching for me. She saw me on the other side of the tracks with a friend and a little red wagon…trying to cross the tracks to return home. She saw there was not enough time for me to get across the tracks before the train arrived. And she was too far away to get to me in time. I can only imagine the emotions she experienced in that moment. And then an angel, a little old lady waiting at the tracks in her car, stepped out, grabbed the hands of my friend and me, pulled us off the tracks, and held on until the train had passed.

    I never had a chance to meet that dear old lady, but I would thank her if I could.

    And if there is any justice for the harm they cause: I told your story to a coyote hunter yesterday. He mentioned that there are hunters who have trained dogs to turn the table on the coyotes. The dogs allow the coyotes to start to lure them away, then they turn and run, with the coyotes close on their tail. They lead the coyotes back to the hunter. He saw one video where the coyote got withing five feet of the hunter before the hunter popped up from behind a rock and delivered justice.

  19. Glad your dog returned safely. And so true, so many helping hands in our life. It’s too easy to get caught up in the negative news out there. There’s certainly enough of that, so it’s heartwarming to hear about strangers pitching in to help. Thanks for sharing your harrowing experience. Have a Happy Thanksgiving

  20. Great Thanksgiving post Clare! I have too many strangers to thank, and the worst part is you never know their names. I remember my junker car breaking down all the time when I was in college and always there was some wonderful person who came out of nowhere to push it to the side of the road with me or help me change a tire. People have helped me look for lost pets or a lost little brother (that was a scary experience way back in 1983). Since juggling a rambunctious toddler these days, many more people have helped me with doors or shopping carts. There are so many good people out there. And yes there are plenty of people who don’t stop to help, but it only takes one person to make a big difference in someone’s day or life, so as long as we get one in the crowd we’re not a lost cause. Of course if EVERYONE could be that helpful stranger what an amazing world we’d have.

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