Neil Gaiman is probably best known for his works, popular and haunting novels, graphic novels, and short story collections like American Gods: A Novel, Sandman, and the novella-turned stop-motion film Coraline.
But though he is an acclaimed author with a musician wife, who has millions of her own fans, some people know Neil Gaiman best for Cabal, the striking white German Shepherd the writer rescued years ago and the dog that would become the best friend the writer never knew he needed.
In April 2007, as the author details on his blog, Gaiman was driving home in his Mini Cooper when he spotted a large white dog on the side of the freeway, wandering terrified in the rain. Gaiman pulled over to see if he could help. The dog had no identification tags, only a choke chain, and he was in bad shape. Gaiman opened the door to his Mini and the big dog jumped inside. After contacting the local Humane Society, Gaiman stopped at home to give the dog a rest before taking him to the shelter.
“I really hope he’d just got lost, and his family are looking for him,” Gaiman blogged that day, “it would be hard to imagine someone abandoning a dog that cool.”
Several days later, the Humane Society called Gaiman to give him an update on the dog he’d brought in. The staff member explained that the dog Gaiman had found belonged to a local farmer, who kept the dog chained in the yard and didn’t want him anymore. Gaiman was shocked, but knew in his heart what he needed to do.
“When the Humane Society lady mentioned that the person who found him rather liked him, [the farmer] told her that if I came over and picked him up I could have him,” Gaiman wrote. “So I did.”
Gaiman adopted the big white dog he’d rescued and gave him a mythical new name — Cabal, after King Arthur’s white dog. Neglected for most of his life, Cabal took to Gaiman’s love instantly, and for six wonderful years, the pair of author and dog became inseparable.
“I had a friend at a time when I needed one badly,” Gaiman wrote. “I was really lonely at the time.”
“I didn’t really have anyone in my life, anyone who felt like mine,” he added.
As Gaiman started posting photos and updates about Cabal on his blog, fans were delighted. After the writer adopted a second dog, another white wolfish German Shepherd named Lola, to keep Cabal company, Gaiman fans created a popular Tumblr page dedicated to photos of the author’s canine companions. Cabal’s popularity so rivaled that of his owner’s that there is even a “Super Cabal!” T-shirt available for fans to purchase.
After six happy years together, 9-year-old Cabal was diagnosed with a condition Gaiman compared to multiple sclerosis, but for dogs. Degenerative canine myelopathy made it difficult for Cabal’s legs to work properly sometimes, but despite his condition Cabal still seemed as healthy and happy as ever.
“He was nine years old. An old, big dog. But still mine, with a determined, unquestioning love and loyalty I’d never known,” writes Gaiman.
But while the author was away preparing the new house he’d rented for the dogs’ arrival, tragedy struck. Friday night Gaiman got a call from his friend, who was looking after Cabal and Lola while he was away. Cabal had suddenly fallen ill, vomiting and having trouble taking a breath, Gaiman explains.
Having missed the last plane back home for the day, Gaiman was stranded miles and miles away while his beloved dog was being examined by the veterinarian, who discovered that Cabal likely had a blood clot in his lung. Sadly, Cabal passed away that night.
“If I’d been there it would have been safe for him to go,” Gaiman writes poignantly. “I talked to him on the phone, intending to say something calming so he could hear my voice, and instead just cried and told him I was sorry that I wasn’t there.”
“I’m so glad I knew him. I’m so glad we found each other. I don’t imagine I’ll ever have another bond like that in my life,” says Gaiman. “I wish dogs lived longer.”