It was near 7:00 PM, and close to sunset. Me and my little pooch, Mercedes, were out for our evening constitutional about three weeks ago. She pulled me briskly along, sniffing every few feet to get all the doggie news of the neighborhood, and to add her own message to network. (How DOES a fifteen pound dog pull a five foot seven woman who is ten times her weight along, exactly?)
As we walked along, I felt an unexpected, cold poke on the back of my calf. Startled, I whipped around to find a matted, starving doggie staring back at me, tensed to run away at the slightest sign of malice.
My heart melted in an instant for the poor creature.
I spoke softly to him and tried to reach my hand out to him to let him know that I wasn’t dangerous, but he kept just out of reach. After a few moments of no contact, I turned to continue my walk, Mercedes alert to his presence but oddly passive toward him.
The stray dog followed us at a discreet distance the whole walk.
I tried to get him to follow me into our cul-de-sac, to perhaps lure him into our fenced yard with some food, where we might evaluate the his condition and try to help him. Nothing doing.
TWO STRANGE THINGS
One of the strange things about the encounter was this: you don’t find stray dogs in our quiet, gated neighborhood—ever. It is just not something that happens.
The second strange thing about the encounter was my reaction to it. I’m not generally someone who picks up strays, of any sort—animal or people, nor one who becomes attached to them. But this dog captured my attention and my thoughts. I couldn’t get the desperate canine off my mind.
I felt so badly for this dog who had so obviously reached out to me for help. I couldn’t ignore him. I began to talk about the dog to the point where my husband told me to “quit talking about that dog, it’s gone!”
But I couldn’t. I told him, if that dog comes back, we have to help it, to which he replied, “We don’t NEED ANOTHER DOG.” I couldn’t argue with that, because in truth, we didn’t.
But still, the dog remained in my thoughts and heart.
A week later, we were on our way to work, commuting together. As we turned out of our driveway on to the main street of our neighborhood, there was the dog, on the corner! I yelled out to my husband, who slowed but didn’t stop. We would be late for work if he did.
Later that day, our neighborhood watch sent out an email to all neighborhood residents, sharing a photo of the dog, who had been helped into our direct neighbors back yard. I immediately called them and told them not do anything with the dog until we got there, we wanted to adopt him. After work, and changing our clothes, we went to the neighbors to meet this pathetic creature.
A MATTER OF NECESSITY
He was hiding deep within a dense bush in the neighbors yard. They had been trying to coax him out with food, water and kindness since he came into their backyard. Not a chance. He wouldn’t budge. He wouldn’t let them get near him. I went up the hill behind the bush and my husband stayed in front. After a few minutes of coaxing, we managed to get him to run out of the bush, albeit terrified. But he did allow us to get close to him. A few minutes later he let us touch him, and a few more minutes later he ate a homemade gluten free doggie treat from our hand. He was filthy dirty, matted like a millennial hippie with dredlocks, and smelled about that bad too. Covered in fleas and nothing but skin and bones, I smoothed back the hair covering his eyes, and could see the plea in them. So could my husband. Even Mercedes reached out to him and they played a bit, with the little energy he had. Then it was time for us to go, and the neighbors said they would keep him until we could come to a decision.
LIFE AND DEATH DECISIONS
We walked home. I should say my husband stalked home, silent and acting angry. I knew his soft heart was at war with his practical mind. It’s not like mine wasn’t. But I had this sense of urgency that is rare for me, especially in a situation such as this. And usually practicality wins out. But not this time. I knew if we didn’t help this animal, it would surely die.
My husband’s silence broke after we got home. “We don’t need another dog!!” He forcefully stated to me again. Just as forcefully I retorted, “That is true. We DON’T need another dog. But this dog obviously needs US. He chose us to help him. If we don’t help him, and he dies from starvation or the pound, I will not be able to live with that guilt knowing it was in my power to help.” What could my husband say to that? Nothing. He knew it was right. He knew eventually that dog was coming home with us.
The next morning the neighbors texted us—“the dog hasn’t moved from the spot where he laid down, staring at the gate you left through, waiting for you to come back.” I looked at my husband, and he just shrugged.
We went back over after work, this time bringing some real dog food. The pup came right to us, and began eating kibble out of our hand. The neighbor said he still wouldn’t let either of them get near him. We left him there again, since we were unprepared to bring him home.
The next night we visited him, and as we began to leave the dog cried. I looked at my husband and he said, “Fine. I’ll take him home and give him a flea bath and you go get whatever we need to keep him.” I flew to the store while the dog fought the leash all the way home, and I could hear hubby muttering uncharitable thoughts aloud as I left.
When I returned home with a kennel, flea meds, brush, food dishes and other accoutrements, I discovered hubby and hound in the bathroom, where the water was black with dirt, and hubby was cooing endearments to our newest addition. “Good boy. You’re such a good boy.” “You were so dirty, let’s fill this tub up again and get you clean.” Quite the change.
And the dog, Murphy by name now, was so good. He let us wash him over and over. He let us cut the matted hair away to free him. He let us brush him out, the best we could. And we could see the gratitude in his eyes. True, he howled his first couple of nights in the kennel, but who could blame him? He craved our touch, begging to be petted. He began to play with Mercedes as his energy increased from plentiful food. Granted, he was still skittish, but every day getting used to being with a family again.
Three and a half weeks later, Murphy is laying by my feet with Mercedes as I type this journal. He is relaxed and happy, filling out
nicely and has his first vet appointment this week. He is learning, or relearning, commands and his kennel training is coming along well. His apricot fur is brushed and silky, a real pleasure to run your hands through. He and Mercedes are fast friends who play and wrestle, and it is so nice to have two fur babies to come home to, that love us and are excited to see us, even if there is a bit more dog hair to deal with. Our lives are richer, if a tad more inconvenient. Our hearts are fuller, even if training takes a bit of effort. We are so glad that Murphy is with us. A random comment from a friend on hearing the condensed version of this story just confirmed how we feel. Our friend said, “God brought you that dog.” He did indeed.
It’s true Murphy needed us.
But how did he know that we needed him too?