“We’re all just heartbroken,” Peggy Hensley said of the folks around the Carter Family Fold about the recent death of one of their own. His official name was Carter Fold Opie, but most of the time he was just called Opie. He had a sad beginning that could have ended tragically. He was abandoned on a roadside on a Sunday summer night, with a storm coming on. Fortunately for Opie, that roadside was near the Carter Family Fold and he was found — unable to walk, lying on some newspapers, with a bit of dry dog food on a paper plate — by Rita Forrester.
“He added a real element to the Fold,” Hensley said. “A little touch. He was a sweet little dog and never had a bad night. Opie was a wonderful ambassador for the Fold.”
Forrester said it was about 10 p.m. when she saw what she at first thought was a puppy under a streetlight near the entrance to the Fold.
“He could not stand,” Forrester said. “He was barely making a distressed sound. It seemed to hurt him when I tried to pick him up.”
She took him to her house and tried to feed him soft pet food and milk.
“He threw them right back up.”
So off she and he went to “Doc” — Dr. Allen Jones, a Blountville-based veterinarian known for helping seemingly lost causes.
“I took him thinking he’d have to be put to sleep. But Doc said, ‘Let me work on him a few days.’ ”
Doc diagnosed rickets and gave Opie calcium treatments. After those few days, Opie seemed on the mend and Jones told Forrester the dog was probably around 6 months old — and he’d decided he wanted to keep him.
“I told him we’d have joint custody,” Forrester recalled with a laugh.
Doc, already a regular attendee at the Fold, began taking Opie with him every Saturday night. It wasn’t long before Opie found a dance partner in Debbie Webb.
“Doc was at the Fold one night with Opie sitting on his lap, and I’m a dog lover, so I just ran over and picked Opie up and started dancing with him,” Debbie said Saturday.
Soon, Debbie and her husband, Randy, who live in Piney Flats, were stopping in Blountville each week on their way to the Fold to give Doc and Opie a ride.
“Doc was his savior, health wise,” Debbie said. “And he loved Doc.”
As time passed, Debbie and Randy began to keep Opie at their house some. About five years ago, it became full time — but with regular visits to Doc in addition to Saturday night trips to the Fold. And Opie’s popularity and fame as “the dancing dog” grew.
“He was a character,” Debbie said, joking that while people knew Opie’s name, she was just “the dog lady.” Once, while walking Opie outside a Stone Drive restaurant on the way to the Fold, a passing car’s window lowered and the driver yelled, “Hi, Opie!”
“He didn’t say padoodlie squat to me,” Debbie said. “He just drove on. Opie was just so well-known. That one got me. I thought, ‘I’m just the walker.’ Opie was loved by so many people. He was an international star. I’ve gotten emails and messages from people in England and Germany offering condolences.”
Forrester said Opie seemed to know when Saturday rolled around each week and would “cry if they didn’t bring him” to the Fold. “He loved the Fold. I think he knew he got saved there.”
And visitors to the Fold loved Opie.
“Everybody loved to pet Opie,” Forrester said, adding she hopes whoever abandoned him on the roadside reads this story.
“Regardless of the mean thing they did, he ended up living one of the best lives a dog could have,” Forrester said. “And he brought so much pleasure to so many people. He was loved by so many people. Everything about him is a miracle. It was a miracle I found him. It was a miracle Doc made him well. I’ll never be able to look at that front row and not think about him sitting there. The Fold will not quite be the same without him.”
“He loved everybody,” Debbie said. “He loved kids. He was a fantastic dog. So sweet. And the best dance partner ever — he never stepped on anyone’s toes. I loved to two-step with him.”
Some things about Opie:
• Even Doc had a hard time defining Opie’s breed mix. But Webb found the perfect answer. “People would ask me what was his breed, what kind of dog he was. ... Obviously, he was a Heinz 57 ... but my answer was ‘well-loved,’ ” Debbie said. “He was a well-loved dog. Well-loved was his breed.”
• “He was a people dog,” Debbie said. “He just demanded attention, sitting there (in a front row seat at the Fold) like a little Southern gentleman. He didn’t know he wasn’t one.”
• Opie not only cooperated, but seemed to relish being dressed in costumes for holidays and special occasions. On Halloween he’d give out treats to children at the Fold (with some help from Webb). “He was such a sweet, accommodating little dog,” Hensley said.
• His favorite food: Carter Fold hot dog wienies. He always got at least one and often got two or even three. “We tried to draw the line at three,” Webb said.
• Opie liked all kinds of music, but slow tunes were his favorite and he expected a dance when one was played. “He knew when a slow song came on, the two-steps,” Webb said. “He would get up ... and look up at me like, ‘Are we going to stroll around the floor or not?’ ”
• Dancing wasn’t his only activity. He also loved to go boating and fishing with Randy and Debbie. “And he loved Fox News. He would watch it over and over and over again,” Debbie said.
Opie’s illness came on quick. It was liver cancer. Debbie and Randy had to make the difficult decision, on advice from a veterinarian and after talking to Doc, to end Opie’s suffering.
“I took one last dance with him there in the vet’s office,” Debbie said. “And then Randy and I both had our arms around him and Randy told him we were doing the best thing we could do for him.”
It was hard. And it still is.
“My arms ache for him,” Debbie said. “I come home and he’s not standing there. It’s empty. He filled this little house with so much love and he filled the Fold, that big venue, with so much love.”
Opie was cremated and his ashes will be planted with a sapling in an area in need of reforestation, Debbie said, and that sapling will grow into a tree that will dance in the wind.
“I wanted something purposeful and it was just fitting for Opie,” Debbie said. “He will be slow dancing to the music. That’s the way it should be.”
J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]