Saturday, January 10, 2009

Riddled with guilt

** Writer's note: upsetting post

When I'm out and about and see an animal in potential danger, I stop. I've moved turtles off to the side of highways, corralled loose dogs and called their owners, etc. 

So that's what went through my mind as I approached my house tonight after work. It was dark, and a car was coming from the other direction on my road - a relatively major thoroughfare, with speeds of 55+ mph. Right in front of my driveway, that other driver did something - swerved or slowed down - that drew my attention to... holy cow - there's a black dog right in the middle of the road!

No, I did not hit the dog - I was only going like 15 or 20 mph as I slowed to make the turn into my driveway. I passed the dog and saw it was eating road kill. I had to stop to let the other car pass before turning, and the dog looked right at me, then returned its focus to the dead animal (rabbit, I think). There are a few loose dogs that roam the neighborhood, and I recognized it as one of those; I wasn't sure who owned it.

I drove up the driveway and into my garage, and got ready to go out to the road to coax the dog into my driveway and out of danger. Wait, I thought - even with the full moon, I won't be able to read its tags without a flashlight. I'll grab the one out of the back of the car. So I spent a few moments digging around for, and not finding, the flashlight.

I gave up and walked out of the garage, and got about 10 steps down the driveway when... Oh my God, there's a truck coming really fast... it's not slowing down... I can't look.

There was a crash. The pickup truck kept going into the night. I knew, right away, that the dog was dead. The total silence - no yelps of pain, no whimpering - confirmed it. In the immediate aftermath, I couldn't bring myself to look at the scene.

Twenty, maybe 30 seconds, and I would have had that dog out of harm's way! If I hadn't looked for that flashlight! If I hadn't stopped for a burger on the way home! 

My head was spinning. I started shaking. I was on the cusp of hyperventilating. Still outside, I called my dad and asked him what I should do. I called the sheriff and reported it, and they said someone would stop by. All the while, I could hear other cars, maybe three or four, hitting the dog.

I went in and saw my own dog, tail whipping against the side of her crate, whimpering and barking, waiting to greet me. She needed to go out. I walked lock-step with her as she did her business, and got her back in the house ASAP.

I realized that when I called the sheriff, I had not actually seen that the dog was dead. So I steeled myself up, grabbed the house flashlight and gingerly made my way out to the road. It was about 50 feet down the road, mostly off to the side.

My neighbors across the street have a dog I've heard and never seen; they keep it in the back. I was almost certain it was NOT theirs, but I didn't know for sure, so I knocked on their door. It was after 10 p.m., but the lights were on and I figured they'd wonder about the sheriff's car anyway. It was not their dog. Two more cars hit the dog as I talked to them. It was night, the dog was black... I guess I can't blame them.

About 10 minutes later the sheriff came out. He looked, and there was no collar. He said someone would be by to pick up the body on Monday. It will have to sit out there all day Sunday.

I thanked him for stopping, and felt a bit childish for not being able to look for the tags myself.

I went back in the house. I thought about the times I'd seen this dog, and became pretty certain which home it belonged to. I don't know for sure, but I think the owners are the same people who had another dog, a yellow one, that got hit in front of my house one evening last summer. That dog, miraculously, survived - in part because I drove it to the vet. Its owner had been drinking and was too drunk to drive, so she frantically asked me to chauffeur the both of them into town.

So then I was getting angry. Those idiots! Didn't they learn their lesson? Didn't the sight of their one dog, trailing a mangled back leg last summer as we hustled it in to the vet's office, teach them anything? Apparently not. And, both times, I've been forced into dealing with the aftermath.

It was after 10:30. There was no way I was knocking on that home's door at this hour, given that kind of news and given that I wasn't 100 percent sure it was their dog. There was nothing else I could do.

I flopped down on the recliner, turned on Saturday Night Live (I needed something to laugh at, and, fortunately, it delivered this week), and petted the dog as she rested her head on the arm of the chair. After a while, I got down on the floor, and gave her a hug as she leaned her weight against me. I told her she was a good dog, as the sound of cars passing outside gave me chills.


christina said...

oh my god! that's so awful! i'm sorry you had to witness that [and that it happened at all, of course.] ugh. sick feeling.

Beverly said...

I'm only reading this now. That's horrible! I'm sorry you had to see it, too.