About a year ago, a wild goose appeared in the pond behind Harry Huff's cabin, a cantankerous bird that chased, pecked and bit all comers. But somehow, this feathered intruder fell smitten with Huff's bulldog, Sadie.
The unlikely pair became inseparable, exploring their corner of Harnett County on paws and webbed feet. Huff named the goose Sal, who took up the role of neighborhood protector, keeping close watch on his canine friend.
"That goose," said Wanda Holder, a neighbor, "takes his long, long neck and rubs on that dog."
But the mates have been parted, and tributes to their inter-species bond continue to pour out on social media while humans try to reconnect them.
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Last week, Sadie and Sal wandered out onto N.C. 27, a busy highway outside Lillington — farther than they had previously wandered. The sight caused enough fuss that cars pulled over, and witnesses tried to catch Sadie and Sal.
One of them snapped a picture of the duo that has caused a small Internet sensation, getting more than 220 shares on Facebook, long strings of comments and a post on Craigslist.
"We stopped to help the Canadian goose keep the bulldog out of the road ... and the goose got (angry)," wrote a Sanford man in one Facebook post. "Started chasing everyone around and trying to bite anybody that got near the dog. You can't make this (stuff) up."
According to witness accounts, an unknown woman looped a leash around Sadie over Sal's honking protests.
"(The goose) chased the car with the dog in it for a little while, then gave up," the Sanford man wrote.
And now, Sal — who also goes by Gary — wanders her street honking in what sounds like a forlorn tone for waterfowl.
"He's been moping," Huff said.
News of Sadie's disappearance quickly spread on a pair of Facebook's lost dog sites, where one concerned reader said, "I see a children's book."
The Internet abounds with stories of improbable animal couples: J'aime the Lion and Joey the Lamb, Cleo the Cat and Forbi the Owl, Bea the Giraffe and Wilma the Ostrich. The idea that nature could unite seemingly incompatible beasts offers promise for humans, so often divided.
"It sorta broke my heart to see the two separated," the Sanford man wrote. "It sorta broke my heart to see the two separated, it really did. You could tell they were pals."
Around the neighborhood outside Lillington, theories abound. Did the mysterious woman take the bulldog because she thought it was being mistreated, because it was in danger or simply because she wanted it? Some neighbors have even theorized that the dog is now living inside a members-only gated community down the road, where geese find scant welcome.
"The goose has been different," neighbor Charles Bull said. "He's been over in my yard quite a bit. I'm actually petting the goose, which I've never done before."
What nature bands together, the Bible says loosely, let no man put asunder. Until goose and bulldog reunite, honks of sorrow haunt Harnett County.