Monday, March 19, 2012

Dog Day Saturday

At first glance, it looked like a scraggly pile of leaves.

But when it got up, you could see that it had four legs.

Underneath a neighbor's pickup truck parked across the street, a mangy mutt of a dog appeared this past Saturday.  It could stand up underneath the full-sized Chevy, which tells you how tall it was.  And it wasn't much longer, either.  It's greyish-brown hair was matted and clumped, looking like cornrows in places.  Hair completely covered its eyes and spread out from each of its paws.  Other than hair, all that could be seen was a cute little black button nose.  And every now and then, a little pink mouth with perfectly-aligned itty-bitty white teeth.

It appeared as though this dog's previous owners had put braces on those teeth in its earlier life, they were so straight.  In that earlier life, it was probably well-groomed, well-fed, and even well-trained.  It certainly wasn't a wild dog who'd lived for years - or even many months - on the streets.  It didn't snap, or bark much at all.  It didn't dislike humans, but it was wary.  Eventually, with some coaxing, it decided to inch itself to the side of the pickup, closer to us humans, yet still well-protected by the underbelly of the Chevy.

A neighbor up the street saw it first, and came back with some dog food he purchased at a nearby convenience store, since he didn't have a dog of his own.  But this little mutt wouldn't come out from under the truck, so our neighbor tore off the side of a Styrofoam fast-food soda cup, filled it up with the dog food, and left it in the curb.

After the first neighbor went back home, I softly approached the pickup truck, talking to the dog in a hushed manner.  He wagged his mangy tail, but displayed little other interest.  I got down onto the pavement on my hands and knees, with my rear-end sticking up in the air, trying to coax the mutt out from under the truck, but he just moved from one spot to the other, wagging his tail in a decidedly noncommittal way.

Another neighbor drove by, saw the situation, and went home to get some doggie treats she had on-hand for her own two pets.  We made a little smorgasbord of the food on the pavement near the wayward stray, and after we moved back, he came out and gobbled up some of the pieces.

Yet another neighbor drove by, got out of her silver Cadillac, got down on her hands and knees, and tried to coax the mutt from underneath the pickup.

No success.  Although he seemed charmed by all of the attention he'd suddenly acquired, he didn't really trust any of us.

What do to?  Another neighbor drove by and suggested a no-kill shelter she knew of - about 30 miles away.  We couldn't even get the dog out from under the truck, let alone pick him up.  And did any of us have room in our Saturday to drive a couple of hours to take a stray dog to anyplace but the city pound, where they only keep strays for three days?

I decided that I could, but I needed more time to establish some sort of rapport with this little doggie.  So after talking to him some more, I went inside to try again later.  Only by then, our newest neighbor had moved on - to another, smaller pickup truck parked in our next-door-neighbor's driveway.  They were away on vacation, but I knew if they came home a day early and their two small children found a lost dog at their house, their parents would have a horrible time trying to convince them that it wasn't Providence giving them a new pet!

So I went next-door, and crouched beside their gold-colored Ford pick-up.  I talked to the dog, patting the concrete driveway with my hand, and generally trying to play dog whisperer to the shaggy-haired mutt.  At least the day was fairly cool and we had a bit of a breeze, so I wasn't perspiring like I would have done had this taken place during one of our notorious Texas summers.  But still, the dog seemed to enjoy the attention, but that was about it.

After a while, after I'd gone back inside, I noticed the neighbor up the street who'd gone out to purchase dog food had returned.  He was sitting on the curb, next to the white Chevy, talking to the dog, which had left the Ford and returned to the truck parked in the street.  "Good," I thought to myself.  "Maybe he'll be able to take care of the dog!"  I didn't want to have to take the stray myself to a shelter - no-kill or not.  But I knew we couldn't keep him.

After another hour or so, I looked again, and there was no scraggly-looking clump underneath the Chevy.  Had our neighbor taken him home?  Nope, I looked next-door, and the stray had simply returned to our next-door-neighbor's Ford.  So I went over again to talk to him, and to my surprise, it didn't take long for the little doggie to slowly work his way from underneath the truck into my reach.  So I stretched over and scratched his little head.

And he liked it!

I scratched behind his ear, under his chin, and across his back.  My hand turned brown and greasy from stroking such dirty hair.  But when I moved closer, the dog ducked back underneath the truck.

I'd done some research online and found a no-kill shelter in Fort Worth, which was closer to us, but they closed at 5pm on Saturdays, and it was 4:30 now.  And I still couldn't get to the dog to pick him up.  I started to walk away, and the dog came back from underneath the truck, and he started to follow me down the neighbor's driveway!

Was this my chance?  I turned around and bent down to scratch behind his ears again, and the dog came right up to my legs.  As I had been petting him, I'd noticed that fleas were running all over his skin.  The whole time he had been in our neighborhood, and all of us neighbors had been talking to him, he would suddenly attack his backside with his back feet in a scratching fit - obviously because of the fleas.  So as much as I wanted to help the little mutt, I didn't want to get covered in fleas myself.  So I didn't really want to pick him up.  But if I could get him to follow me to our house and into my car, then I could just spray the car's interior afterwards.

So I walked slowly across our lawn, and the little dog followed me.  We kept going, and he was following me, right up until the point where he seemed to start reading my mind as I mentally strategized about how I'd deal with his fleas and get him to the shelter, as time was running out.

Suddenly, he turned around and trotted back next door, and scooted himself underneath our neighbor's truck.

I went inside, and called the shelter to see if they could stay open a little while longer.  But they'd closed early for the day.

After dinner, I went back next door, and the dog came out from under the truck and let me pet him again and scratch behind his ears.  I killed a couple of fleas that made their way onto my arm and shirt, but I was really feeling sorry for the little fella.  I walked back into our yard, and the mutt followed me, and I thought maybe if I could get him into our fenced backyard for the evening, at least we could keep a better eye on him, and take him to the shelter after church Sunday morning.

About that time, yet another neighbor was walking her dog down our street, walking towards me and the stray.

"Oh, good!" she exclaimed.  "You got him to come out from underneath the truck!"

"Yes, but I don't know what to do with him right now," I replied.

"Well, Paul, our neighbor, wants to keep him."  I figured out that Paul was the guy who'd come down with the dog food earlier in the day, and who'd sat on the curb for a long while talking to the dog under the truck.

Wow - that was good news!  I had hoped that neighbor - who I'd never met before - would provide a good resolution for our problem, and he'd come through!  So we walked with the mutt - he was following me around quite obediently now - up the street to Paul's house.

And Paul was walking down the street - with even more dog food that he'd mixed with some hamburger!  When he saw us coming towards him with the stray, he broke out into a broad smile.

Turns out, he's an older single guy with some health issues who had a dog like this mutt back when he was much younger.  He was ready to deal with the fleas and the matted hair, and had a spacious, fenced backyard to keep him.  So we escorted the newly-christened "J.J." into the backyard, where he promptly did his business next to Paul's in-ground swimming pool!  It was as if he knew this was his new home!

Paul didn't care.  He was deeply pleased.  He was going to give J.J. a thorough bath and make an appointment with a dog groomer.  "I guess you'll see me more often now," he joked, since he'd realized he'd have to take J.J. out for daily constitutionals.

I walked back down the street to my home, leaving J.J. at his new one.  It was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  Everything had worked out!  How nice that all of us neighbors were able to share a common concern, and how especially nice that one of us was in a position to take a stray right off the street, despite all of his fleas and however many other problems he might have.

It reminded me that some stories can still have happy endings.  And that redemption isn't as impossible as we often consider it to be.

Bow. Wow!

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