A newcomer to Bay St. Louis discovers a community of local businesses and neighbors who welcome her and her Doodle sidekick to the dog-friendly town.
- story by Denise Jacobs
Linda especially enjoys eating on the porch at Lulu’s on Main (126 Main Street) with Mowgli, her mostly Finnish Spitz, at her feet. I feel the same way about the Old Town merchants, who have always welcomed Biscuit, my mini Goldendoodle.
From the beginning of my move to BSL almost three years ago, the courtyard of the Mockingbird Café has been my go-to place for meeting others with dog on leash. It’s where I met Fahey DeBenedetto House, now a dear friend. Fahey and I began talking about Biscuit, and by the time I had downed an iced coffee, Fahey had invited me to join a loosely-formed cadre of women with dogs. Before I knew it, I was on the receiving end of a flurry of daily texts: Heading out in 15. Woof! And just like that, my new life in Bay St. Louis began to take shape.
At first, I felt awkward as the newcomer. Because these women had established relationships with one another, I tried to stand back and give them space—not hard to do given Biscuit’s tennis-ball fixation. It was easy to throw one tennis ball after another and give my potential new friends space.
I soon realized, however, that there was nothing cliquish about the group. We simply aligned per the configuration of the day, and the configurations varied.
Once, Fahey and Karen paired-off on some swings deep in conversation while Diana and I paired-off at the picnic table, also deep in conversation. At other times, Fahey and I might walk and talk about politics, or she might tell me about growing up in Bay St. Louis, a town I was just getting to know. Rebecca and I, both writers, talked about writing. I liked to talk to Karen about yoga—a perfect topic since she had recently completed her 200-hour yoga training at Kripalu.
Between us, we had Goldendoodles (Haggis and Biscuit), Westies (Allie and Marley), and mutts (Willie and Skye). There were others—some pictured here—but I had yet to meet them. For two years now, our little pack has both expanded and diminished, and text messages come and go with varying degrees of frequency and complexity.
Sadly, Willie’s companion, Skye, died. That was a blow to all of us, but none so much as Diana, who had rescued him in the first place, and Rebecca, his undercover sleeping companion. Haggis and Karen have since moved far across the country. Deirdre of Long Beach, on vacation when I first joined the group, reappeared with her two Westies and occasional fosters. You just never know, but if you show up, we draw a circle and take you in just as the group drew a circle and took me in.
Love me, love my dog is the rule of the day and more than a metaphor. We admire each other’s dogs. We let them lick our faces and climb on our backs. Biscuit places his drool-soaked tennis ball on a bench to the left of Diana. She picks it up, hands it to me (on her right), and I throw it to Biscuit. Repeat 500 times.
Biscuit, a loner, has become a little more social and now happily greets his human friends if not the dogs. When Haggis’s arthritis exacerbated, we all kept an eye on him, as he didn’t seem to know when to stop. Allie began catching tennis balls of her own. The question is, will she ever return one?
One day last year, Fahey texted me that Willie could not be found. Within minutes, without hesitation, I grabbed my coat, leashed Biscuit, and began walking down DeMontluzin looking for Willie. Fahey had already been to the beach; no Willie. She and Karen were walking down Necaise. At Second and State, I turned left onto Main.
“Willie cannot have gone far,” I thought.
I could see Rebecca walking around her house, the front door wide open. Diana was teaching a yoga class and had no idea Willie was gone. I knew we had to find him before Diana’s class ended in an hour. No one said it, but we all knew that Diana and Rebecca, having just lost Skye, could not take another loss. Willie had to be found before Diana’s yoga class ended. We had an hour.
Biscuit and I walked up to the white picket fence surrounding Diana and Rebecca’s house. As we stood there with a worried Rebecca, a very dirty Willie sauntered up from somewhere underneath the house. He may have been digging to China. I like to think that he knew Biscuit and I were there and came out from under to say hello, what’s up? Whatever Willie’s thinking, we were all relieved to see him.
Later, Rebecca texted a thank you and wrote, “I feel like the troops came out to help . . . now, that’s community!”
It is community. Studies have shown that dogs can provide their owners with more than companionship; they also help create human-to-human friendships and social support. Between our dog adventures and good old-fashioned Southern hospitality, our lives here in the Bay intertwine in the very best of ways and our circle of friends ever widens.