Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lost dog skips his way into our hearts, out into uncertainty



My in-laws were headed back to their Arizona house after a late night, and my wife and I, along with my parents, walked them out to our driveway. Once there, my dad spotted a small dog in the middle of the road. Well past midnight, it seemed as though the dog was the only thing out partying later than us.


My dad called him over, and the dog abided, welcoming the love. He had a collar—“Skipper” was his name—and a contact number. My father-in-law called, but there was no answer, so he made the curious suggestion of having the dog lead us to his home, as if Skipper were Lassie. (When asked if he could accomplish this feat, Skipper stared back at us and scratched his ear.) Surely we weren’t going to leave Skipper at the mercy of the coyotes we’d been hearing howl nightly, so he would be our guest for the evening.


Having a small dog of our own, adjustments were made, including some intense introductory butt-sniffing. Skipper was calm and friendly, deferring alpha male status. Still, it wasn’t wise to have them coexist in the same quarters lest we awake to a sea of territory-marking dog urine, so our dog stayed upstairs with us as usual, and we gated Skipper in a small area downstairs, hoping he’d fall asleep.


As we tried to settle in for the night, we heard the first bark, which made our dog go nuts and which my wife interpreted as, “I AM LONELY AND AFRAID.” She thought maybe the light I had left on for him was distracting, and she demanded I go downstairs to turn it off and reassure Skipper he wasn’t alone.


I did so with, assuming I was alone, a steady stream of baby-dog talk: “How’s my Skipper baby? Such a cutie-patootie, lil’ Skippy-boo … c’mere, lemme scratch that tummy you lil’ stinker …” at which point I heard a voice from the darkness say, “Mike, I got this.”


It was my dad who, also having heard Skipper’s yelp for help, came to sleep on the couch downstairs to be nearby. “Oh, uh … didn’t know you were down here … I was just … good night,” I said as I walked briskly back upstairs.


Since we were, actually, partying that evening, waking up the following day was reminiscent of those curious Saturday morning risings in college—“Wait, is there an unfamiliar dog in the house? What happened last night?” Once downstairs, we realized that, having my dad in the next room was not enough for Skipper, as he had removed the couch cushions to sleep (a.k.a. not sleep) next to Skipper on the floor. A bond had definitely been established, evidenced by the fact that my dad was now holding Skipper in his lap on the chaise lounge in the backyard.


My father-in-law called us to say he’d heard back from the owner, and she’d be coming by shortly to pick up Skipper. We asked him how thrilled she sounded that her dog was safe, and my father-in-law was … not impressed with the level of her excitement.


In fact, it was hours we waited with no one coming by. We outright questioned the owner’s commitment to Skipper as Skipper himself sat contented, his paws on my dad’s arm. 


Surely, if something similar had happened to our dog and I discovered he was safe, I would, just as I was, even if only wearing underwear, run—physically run, with my legs, regardless of distance—to his whereabouts and, when I arrived, fall helplessly into a flood of my own tears of joy while hugging him and promising to never let go. Basically I would react like the father in the Bible’s parable of the prodigal son – “SLAUGHTER THE FATTEST BRUSSELS SPROUT, WE ARE HAVING A FEAST!”—and I feel like this is the appropriate reaction among true dog owners. (By the way, our dog loves Brussels sprouts.)


Finally, the owner’s stepdaughter—she herself couldn’t be bothered, maybe?—came to pick up Skipper, and as we feared, her lukewarm reaction did not meet our expectations. Oh, some good-hearted strangers took our beloved pet in for the evening and treated him with endless love while also keeping him safe. That is nice, I guess. 


I don’t understand people sometimes. I have a difficult time forgiving people who are borderline indifferent about their pets. Sure, maybe we’re a little overboard—I’m fairly certain our dog has a more extensive wardrobe than me—but pets exist to shower with unconditional, irrational love. Oh, and children too, I think. C’mon, people—show some emotion!


As we saw him off, Skipper turned back toward us, and it seemed like in his doggy head was playing Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard theme: “And I-I-I-I-I will always love youuuuuuuuu.” The feeling was mutual, and we all decided if we ever see ol’ Skipper again roaming the streets, we might just … actually, forget I said anything.

Note: This column appears in the 5/29 issue of The Glendale Star and the 5/30 issue of the Peoria Times.

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