In her life and will, Baltimore County woman takes care of animals

Four organizations to split $440,000

  • William Dix with one of the dogs he and his wife, Audrey, adopted over the years.
William Dix with one of the dogs he and his wife, Audrey, adopted… (Photo courtesy Barbara…)
December 25, 2010|By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

In the last years of her life, Audrey R. Dix spent much of her time tending to her garden and her animals, and she made arrangements for how the animals would manage after she was gone. She made plans for the dog and the three birds she had cared for in her small white rancher on Greenmeadow Drive in Lutherville- Timonium, but kept other animals in mind as well, animals she would never see or know.

Dix left instructions in her will, and now, just over a year after her death of cancer at age 79, word of the details is out among the beneficiaries; $550,000 will be split five ways, including by four animal welfare organizations. That the animals got the lion's share is no surprise to the people who knew her.

"The animals were her children; that's what made her happy," said her friend Patti Behrens of Stewartstown, Pa. "She always told me she was going to help take care of them when she died."

"She loved animals," said Barbara McConnell, who for years was Dix's neighbor across the street on Greenmeadow. "And she felt the animals could use the help more than the people she knew."

Dix had no children, and her husband, William, died in 2004. She divided $550,000 evenly among five organizations, four of them devoted to animal welfare: the Baltimore County Animal Control Division; Humane Society of Baltimore County; Defenders of Animal Rights, located in Baltimore County; and the Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, based in the city. The fifth organization is the League for People with Disabilities, an 83-year-old group based in the city devoted to helping disabled people gain greater independence.

For the Maryland SPCA, the gift amounts to almost a tenth of the group's annual donations, and Baltimore County says the donation is the largest in recent memory. Dix will be honored with a plaque at the Humane Society.

The bequests reflect Dix's life.

By all accounts she was devoted not only to her animals, but to maintaining her independence in the face of physical impediments. She was diagnosed with polio as a little girl in the 1930s, which left her with a limp but did not stop her from having a career as a licensed practical nurse. When she took a fall on the job at the Keswick Multi-Care Center Nursing Home in Baltimore in the early 1970s, however, she broke her hip, and that eventually hobbled her more than the polio.

Still, she meant to live as she wanted to live, to tend her garden and care for her animals, to socialize with neighbors passing by her yard, and to make frequent trips to the Cockeysville library — even after the effects of her injury eventually made it necessary for her to get around in a motorized wheelchair. She was also intent on continuing to smoke cigarettes, and smoked heavily, despite whatever cajoling she may have heard from loved ones.

"She was a tough, tough lady," said McConnell. "She just worked out in her garden every day. She was determined to live life to the fullest."

Neighbors and friends say she was out there all the time, raising something for all seasons, shuttling on her motorized chair and wielding her shears through a riot of green, purples, blues, yellows, reds: roses, geraniums, lilies, impatiens, azaleas, daffodils.

"She had all her gardening tools arranged and hooked onto her cart," said her next-door neighbor, Doris Neumann, with whom she chatted often, literally over the fence between their yards. "She kept her dog on a long leash and it could keep her company while she worked in the garden."

The last dog was Mandy, a fluffy white-and-gray one she adopted at the county's shelter on Manor Road — friends believe she was all or part Lhasa apso. Mandy was the last of a succession of dogs that started decades before, as she and her husband adopted and cared for them one at a time.

The couple lived modestly, sharing their enthusiasm for the garden and the animals. William Dix, who raised vegetables while Audrey tended the flowers, retired from Baltimore City as a traffic signal supervisor in 1996 after 40 years.

Married in 1956, the Dixes first adopted a German shepherd they named Fargo, then one they called King. As Audrey had more difficulty getting around, she preferred smaller dogs that she could handle more easily. They adopted a smaller shepherd mix with a shaggy coat and gentle brown eyes and named it Misty. There was a Chihuahua named Cookie.

In the mix were parrots and parakeets and rabbits, but no cats. At least, no cats in the house. There were evidently quite a few strays in the neighborhood that Dix would feed. When neighbors started trapping the strays to have them taken to a veterinarian to be neutered, Dix chipped in.

"She was a real sweet lady," said her cousin, Kenneth Kenney of Anne Arundel County. "She would do anything for you."

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