Happy Thanksgiving to Frankie at Beacon Hollow Farm
When John “Doc” Willis retired from practicing family medicine 15 years ago, he didn’t plan on turning his pastoral property on Block Island’s Beacon Hill Road into a sanctuary. He had spent years clearing the land to make way for a house that he would rent, he thought, for extra income.
Then the animals started coming.
First was a horse named Indy, a former barrel racer badly cut by barbed wire. There was no vet on the island to treat her, so Doc put his skills to use. “I sewed her up,” recalls Doc, “and I ended up keeping her.”
More and more animals followed. Doc’s impulses to help, and heal, weren’t ready for retirement.
Now, 60 animals — four horses, five pygmy goats, two donkeys, two dogs, rabbits, cats, chickens and ducks — live at Beacon Hollow Farm, and so does Doc, after adjusting those rental plans and moving from his other property on the West Side.
“Everybody here is a rescue,” says the fit 71-year-old as his bright blue eyes survey the 5 acres of stonewalls, ponds and barns the weekend before Thanksgiving. “When I get them, they’re grumpy. But after a couple of months, everybody’s friendly.”
The one animal he won’t keep? Turkeys. “I couldn’t give them up for Thanksgiving,” he explains. “No one gets eaten around here.”
The Times asked Doc to tell us about how he came by some of his animals. This is his tribute to one of his huskies, Frankie Blue Eyes.
A real Thanksgiving
By John Willis
There has been a dog, or two or three, in my life most of the time. I have had Siberian huskies with me for more than 30 years, but when my old Storm died last year, I finally decided to retire from the dog business.
That lasted for about three weeks, and then I found myself looking for him everywhere. I thought maybe I needed another old dog like me.
My farm crew, Heather and Cailin, encouraged me to find another dog, but I resisted. My wife Mary agreed with me. “No more dogs — we need to travel now,” she said, “need less strings and more freedom to go whenever we want.”
That all sounded good, but still there was a vacancy on my porch chair, at the foot of my bed, at the gate when I would come home. I still had a dog dish in the corner of the kitchen. I even had a lot of frozen chicken in the freezer and what was left of a bag of dried dog food (we mixed the two for dog dinners).
While on the mainland getting farm provisions, the farm crew asked if we could take a short trip to a not too distant dog pound and just look around, sort of just see what might be available if I ever decided to get another dog. Reluctantly, I said “No,” then “Well, maybe,” then “Yes.”
I called my wife, and she said “Don’t do it.”
But I went, and as I walked past all of these creatures, large and small, jumping up and down yelping, “Take me, take me,” away down at the end was a solitary old soul just lying quietly. He didn’t make a sound or move. But the big, old, fat, 140 pounder of a Siberian husky never took his eyes off me, watching my every move.
The animal shelter attendant said: “That’s Frankie Blue Eyes. He is named after Frank Sinatra, according to his records, and nobody wants him, he is 8 years old and a little grabby. Has already been to five different families in his lifetime. We have had him so so long and now he is on death row. He gets a walk maybe once a week, but for such a big old dog that isn’t nearly enough. Hey, we don’t have any staff here to help.”
I tried to look away, even tried to walk away, but my eyes locked on him and his on me. He slowly got up, started a little two step dance, then put his ears back in a real happy dog face that said “I can pack up in a minute.” Maybe he saw something in my old blue eyes.
“He is also bad with other animals and may even have some medical problems,” the assistant told me.
I said, “I’ll take him.”
Frankie, now all harnessed up (you can’t really collar a husky), dragged me out of that place like an eight-team dog sled. He literally squeezed into the back seat of my pickup with Cailin and off we went. The rough seas on the ferry didn’t bother him a bit, he slept all the way. A small dog gave him a sniff, he didn’t care. As we opened the gate to one acre of fenced property just around the house, he jumped up on the porch, now at eye level with me, and licked my face like a power washer.
Frankie has a new life. He sings “wooo-wooo” with a little melody, but rarely barks. I called the dog pound thanking them; they seemed confused. “Are you sure?” she asked. I said, “He even sings.” They said he never did that wooo-wooo there.
I have had him now for almost a year. He has a large tumor under his right arm, about the size of a football. It’s called a lipoma, a fatty tumor, not usually a problem if removed early. It is far too late now. Frankie walks like a full back, right leg sticking out a bit, and it makes him slip on a tile floor. The veterinarian isn’t sure how long it will be before it does him in. It doesn’t really matter. He sits in that porch chair, sleeps at the foot of my bed, eats out of those kitchen dog dishes — cheap chicken and a little ice cream before bed. My wife kisses him every chance she gets.
We will all have Thanksgiving here on the island: turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and all. Frankie Blue Eyes won’t have a dish at the table, but he’ll have one right under it, by my side, and with all the trimmings. This may be his first real Thanksgiving.