Every time I find a stray dog it’s a punch in the gut. I can’t help letting them me remind me of all the lousy things humans do.
Roo hasn’t been feeling too well lately after a brutal drive through freezing, wet weather all the way from Maine to Oklahoma. I thought she would be happy to be here, but she wasn’t. There were a series of explosions in the distance around 6 in the morning after we arrived late at night, but she seemed oddly displeased to be here from the start. She didn’t want to walk, or swim. Her wounds have healed, so it didn’t look like those were bothering her, but who knows. There was gunfire, too, and after the quiet of Maine, where you never hear a gunshot, reviving the memory of them was probably too much for her. She needs to go to the vet anyway, but her vet, Dr. Stokes, is out of town until Monday, so we’re stuck at least until then, and probably longer, because we’re out of places to go, among other things.
Today, though, she finally perked up enough to go for more of a walk. She is slowing down — it was her seventh birthday on the 11th, so, maybe it’s just age. She enjoyed herself, but it kills me to see her run so much less than she did even two weeks ago. After her walk was when we went to Walmart.
It was rush hour there, and a frantic dog was running around in the parking lot near the entrance. He was disoriented and frightened and clearly looking for someone. He ran to all the cars and hopped up to look in the windows as they rolled past him.
“Get the hell off my truck!” one man yelled at him, as if the dog was a treat to his mismatched junkyard doors, probably replaced one at a time every time he ran into something when he was drunk on the way back from a strip bar in Fort Smith.
I kept trying to call him over, but he was panicking and wasn’t interested. You have to be careful not to chase a nervous dog, unless you want them to ran farther and faster, but I stalked him around for 15 or 20 minutes and as he got more used to me he started to come closer, but his main mission was trying to find his car, and eventually he disappeared.
I went in the store and asked someone to announce that a lost dog was running around the parking lot. Brown with an orange safety collar. The announcement sounded like a chicken squawking from inside a burlap bag and I asked them to do it again and maybe to speak a little more slowly and clearly. Back outside, there was no sign of the dog. I went back in and bought some noodles, a can of tuna, a loaf of bread, a couple of Kit Kats and a gallon of water — pretty much my diet these days, though Roo and I split the water — and went back outside. No sign of the wayfaring stranger.
Dispirited, I put the car in gear, and when Roo and I were pulling out, I drove another couple of rounds in the lot and spotted the dog again. He was more amped up than before and running faster. He knew he was in trouble. He was jumping up to look in the windows of parked cars not too far from where I was parked. I thought of getting Roo out as a lure, but decided against it. It was too busy in the lot and if I ever managed to get ahold of him it would have been hard to manage the two of them with him jumping around the way he was, and there was always the chance of a dog fight.
“Sorry, Chig,” I said when I opened the door. Roo had been watching me try to get to the dog and she saw no reason not to be included in the fun. “I know. There is a dog. But you have to wait here.” I took a couple of Roo’s Milk Bones for bait, gave her one, took out the leash I keep handy for strays and have had to use on more them than I can count, and got back to dog hunting.
The best thing would have been to get the dog into the farther end of the parking lot, which was empty. At least he couldn’t keep disappearing between the row of parked cars and maybe without being distracted by them I could get his attention. The plan worked slowly as he heard whistles and came closer before running back in an elliptical orbit. When he got close enough, I showed him a cookie. He stopped to consider it, but decided he had better things to do.
A man with a little kid was getting into his Jeep, and the dog was attracted to them. The dog seemed to like little kids. That gave me the chance to move in and remind the dog about the cookie. He looked like he wouldn’t mind a snack, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to risk it. Finally, he got close enough for me to wave it past his nose, and he agreed to take it. Just when he did I raised it a few inches and said, “Can you sit for me?” And he did.
“What a good boy,” I said, and he took the cookie gently. He stood to chew it, and I stayed in place to keep from spooking him and showed him another one and gently got a couple of fingers under his collar and while he was crunching that one and clipped the leash on.
This was not a dog accustomed to being on a leash and he bounced around like a madman. It was a good thing I didn’t take Roo. They would have gotten hopelessly tangled.
Hoping that the dog was just an escapee whose owner had just left a window too far down, I waited outside the Walmart. I asked an employee to ask the manager to keep announcing a lost brown dog with an orange collar, and they did. No one showed up. Another Walmart worker came out and said he thought he had seen a minivan drive by and the door open and the dog pushed out and the minivan drive away.
“He got dumped?”
“Well, really I don’t know. I don’t really know if that’s what I saw or not. I think I did. But don’t quote me.” How often does someone say that to someone who actually will quote them? If he wanted the conversation on background, he should have said so in the first place.
“Well, try to picture it. Think back on what you saw.”
“Come to think of it, I don’t know. Really can’t say one way to the other.” He looked away in some direction. “I don’t know if I did or not. It might have been another dog. People dump ‘em here all the time. Could have been he was just running around and someone opened a door and it looked like he was dumped.”
The dog was a fine dog, and in good shape. He was young, healthy, clean and neutered. He was a mutt, though someone must have thought he was a boxer, because his tail was docked like one. Poor bastard. What the hell is the point of subjecting a dog to needless amputation? He was the owner of a collar — a cheap one, true, but safety orange, so, one that someone had chosen inconsideration of keeping him from getting caught in a crossfire — but no tags. He was starting to calm down, and though he still wanted to check every car coming and going, he was starting to show some of that old dog spirit, and he stopped trying to get away. He began to view me as an ally and stood beside me. I told him what a good dog he was and I meant it. He had a deep, soulful look to his eyes, though I have to admit I see that in the eyes of every dog. He was worried, but I could see that the words of encouragement meant something to him and I told him a few times.
I asked the kid to ask the manager to come outside, and in a minute there he was. We talked about the dog’s future.
“I can’t take him,” I said, because I couldn’t. It is impossible in the tiny camper with Roo, who is upset by other dogs who come inside. And God only knows what she has hidden inside, bones and various possessions that another dog would sniff out in two seconds and lead to conflict. She barely tolerated the newborn puppy we found here last time. In her view the world is a dicey enough place without other dogs moving in on her. Even getting him to the camper would be problematic. The car is loaded to the gills, and I wasn’t going to risk packing Roo and this guy in there together in the passenger seat. Roo would almost certainly snarl at him to show him who’s boss, and though he seemed gentle and kind and well-mannered, in the agitated state he was already in, I wasn’t going to risk a bad ending. I’m sure the dog professionals might smirk at that, but that’s what I was thinking.
The manager said he was friends with a cop and he could exert some influence to get them to open the local pound after hours and get him in there.
“The downside,” he said, “is that they only have a five day hold over there. And then, well, you know.”
“Yeah. I know. I won’t let that happen.”
“He’ll be okay in there, then. Buy him some time. Maybe someone’ll claim him.”
I remembered the rescue who took a couple of other dogs I pulled off a nearby street, Three Girls Rescue. They work that pound, but I see from their facebook page that they’re always desperate to round up the fosters without whom dogs die in the pound, just as Roo was once about to die in a pound in Los Angeles. The whole thing stinks, from the people who take dogs on only to dump them in Walmart parking lots to the people who get dogs pregnant so their kids can witness the all too often goddamned miracle of birth to the shelters starved of money and all the rest of the human machinery dogs pay for with the lives.
But I’ll work with Three Girls and try to network something. The one thing I’ll never do is turn a dog in to get killed. So, if necessary, I’ll spring him myself, though I have no idea what I’ll do with him if I do. Move him in here, I suppose, though that would be a mess and I ain’t kiddin’, I’m out of steam.
The cop showed up in less than a minute. The dog, who had ben checking every car, was glad to get in this one. He jumped straight in the back, into the prisoner compartment behind the steel divider meant to protect the cops from the flailing meth heads who normally find themselves there, and that was the last I saw of him. I felt goddamn awful about it. I always do.
But there we are.