Sunday, February 21, 2010

Swiftly and desperately

For all of my 0.1 daily readers, I'm back with a new entry.

There's a line from a children's book that has stuck with me for years. The book is "Rascal" by Sterling North. The author recounts how, as a boy, he adopted an orphaned, baby raccoon; they had great adventures for a while until the raccoon grew wild and unmanageable. Eventually, the boy had to take the raccoon in a canoe to a nearby forest, and let it go into the woods.

The last line of the book is this: "And I paddled swiftly and desperately away from the place where we had parted."

There are so many times that I've been in situations where that line is such an apt description. Not that I was "paddling" away... but replace that word with "moved," or "drove," and I've been there. And I was there again tonight.


I was heading home from work about midnight, going up Woodland Avenue. At a red light at Kent Street, I saw a dog in the southbound lanes. It ran to the snowbank, tried leaping up a few times, and finally scrabbled over. I was going to keep on driving up Woodland, but something stopped me. I needed to find out what was up with this dog. Probably I was unconsciously thinking about a past loose-dog incident that haunts me to this day.

So I veered over and made a left turn onto Kent / 8th Street, found the nearest parking spot and got out to look for the dog. I walked back toward Woodland, and spotted it trotting toward me down the sidewalk. It saw me, stopped, and cocked its head. I crouched down, put out my hand, and used my best puppy-enticing voice... and it came, cautiously. It was a sweet-natured dog - I'd guess a Rottweiler mix, maybe 9 months old. No signs of aggression - I petted it and got a hold of its collar. Two tags - a city license, and a rabies tag. No owner's phone number.

I kept hold of the collar and walked hunched-over, puppy in tow, to my car, where I had a leash for my dog (she was at home). I got the door open, grabbed the leash, and thought I attached it to the collar - but when I transferred my hand from collar to leash, the dog bolted loose. Into the path of an SUV on Eighth Street. I gasped. My mind flashed to the aforementioned past incident.

But the dog did a 180 about 5 feet from getting hit, and ran past me, uphill, into the night. The search was on.

I should mention that as all of this was going on, drunk or soon-to-be drunk UMD students were passing by, en route to nearby house parties. It just added to the scene.

So in the dark, I searched by sound, listening for the dog's tags jangling. I spotted it nearby, apparently trying to jump a fence, but lost it again before I could get close. I walked the streets and alleys for about five minutes, very conscious of the poorly shoveled walks, and thinking that it would be just my luck to slip, fall and break something while searching for some stranger's lost dog.

I had just about given up, and was heading back to my car, when I heard a guy yelling in the backyard of a house. Stuff like "Get out of here!" and "Shoo!" and "Go away!" I walked over. I saw him at his back door, and yelled, "Do you have a stray dog up there?" He said yes, it had been looking in the windows and bothering his dog. I think he was drunk. In any case, it was a fresh lead, and he pointed me in the direction it went. I walked back into the alley, listening for the tags jangling, and - finally - spotted the dog. I did the whole crouch-down, hand-out routine again, got a hold of the collar and - securely - fastened the leash.

Then I called 911. I said I was near Eighth and Kent, had a loose dog on leash, and that the dog had tags but no owner contact info. The dispatcher asked if it was a small, brown-and-black Rottweiler. I said yes, and he said it belonged to a nearby resident - someone had reported it missing. He put me on hold to get the owner's info. By this time the dog was kind of freaking out. It wasn't biting, but it was whimpering and putting up quite a fight to get off the leash.

The dispatcher said the dog belonged at XXX Woodland, and asked if I wanted the owner's phone number. I said no - I couldn't do much at that point because the dog was pulling so hard. So I headed down Woodland, looking for the address. No lights were on, and I couldn't make out house numbers, so I called 911 again. I asked the dispatcher to call the owners, tell them I was out on Woodland somewhere within a few houses, and have them come out to meet me.

Then I waited. And waited. College kids kept walking by. No porch lights went on. No one came out of any nearby house. Then finally, after more than five minutes, I heard some movement behind a house. Two people tentatively came out from the back and walked toward me down the driveway. "Is this your dog," I asked - while noticing that the dog was pulling AWAY from the apparent owners. It wanted to bolt. Badly. I had a sinking feeling that something wasn't right.

"Yes, thank you! Janice!" one of the people said. At least I think that's what she said, so apparently the dog's name was Janice. I led the dog up the driveway, made sure they had hold of the collar and unhooked my leash.

"She ran away when we let the other dog out," was the explanation I remember the woman saying. I don't remember the guy with her saying anything.

But why would this dog want to bolt - not only initially, but even when it was reunited with its owners? They apparently did give it vet care, it had its city license, it was sweet-natured and certainly not malnourished... but something didn't feel right about the situation. I had - I have - this feeling that something bad is going to befall this dog. It's going to run away again, and get hit by a car. Or it's going to shed its collar and wind up in the pound. Or some other bad ending.

I had bonded with the puppy during our brief time together. I wanted to run back up the driveway and take it back, take it somewhere safe. But I didn't. With a lump in my throat, biting my lip, I walked swiftly and desperately away from the place where we had parted.

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