On May 11, 2012, I learned my neighbor’s name. I’m not the kind of person who gets to know my neighbors, and frankly I don’t really like most of them. I had said the occasional “hi” to Dennis a few times over the past couple of years as I walked my dog past his house, but that was the extent of our neighborliness.
May 2 was one of those iconic spring days — warm, breezy, and sunny with crisp blue skies — but as I came home from work during my lunch hour, I found my neighbor sitting on the curb across our busy street, crying very loudly. A small crowd had gathered on the sidewalk, where a policeman was taking down information. And then my eyes fell on the spot next to Dennis, where his Pug, Chloe, lay motionless. My stomach dropped. I knew what had happened.
A month earlier, as I was walking my dog past their house, Chloe had lunged off the front porch with such force that she slipped out of her collar. I was able to grab her before she ran into the road; this day. she had not been so lucky. I listened to the story unfold as the crowd gave their statement to the police officer: Another neighbor had been walking their dog on the opposite side of the street when Chloe jumped off the porch again; this time, her collar popped off and she ran out into the road, where she was hit by a truck and killed instantly. I hugged Dennis and expressed my sympathy as tears streamed down my face, but there was nothing more that could be done, so I returned home. I spent the afternoon snuggling my own dog and feeling grateful to have her. Throughout the day and into the evening, Dennis’ grieving could be heard around the neighborhood. It was heartbreaking.
Dennis and Chloe were a fixture in the neighborhood, always sitting on the porch together. I couldn’t imagine not seeing her sitting on his lap again. And as Dennis grieved for his beloved Pug, I couldn’t help thinking how peaceful she had looked on the sidewalk, like she was just sleeping. How could she be gone? The next day I left a sympathy card on his porch chair, addressed simply “To My Neighbor,” since I still did not know his name.
For the next week I was nervous about walking past Dennis’ house, not knowing what to say if I saw him. I had only seen him out once since Chloe’s death and he had looked so alone, so sad. God only knows how he could sit on that porch in view of the spot where Chloe died.
But on May 11, Dennis and his family were on their porch as I walked home from work. Dennis stopped me to thank me for the card, and then went on to say that he had received a pile of cards and letters from many of our neighbors, including a long apology from the woman who was walking her dog across the street that fateful day. Although it was an accident, I’m sure she felt horrible, as any dog owner would. I was surprised that so many people had come together to offer their sympathies; I hadn’t thought our neighborhood was capable of such kindness.
Dennis admitted that he had gone to look at a litter of Pug puppies the day before and said that if he’d had $350, he would have one of those puppies right now. I know Dennis’ family does not have a lot of money; we do not live in a well-off neighborhood. And while I’m not rich by any means, I live more comfortably than most. Without thinking, I pulled off my backpack, took out my checkbook, and asked, “Who should I make the check out to?” This was how I learned my neighbor’s name.
For a minute there was absolute silence as they looked at me with disbelief. And then Dennis turned to his wife and said, “Go call those people and make sure they have a puppy left.” His wife disappeared into the house as she began to cry. My heart felt like it had doubled in size as I realized the amount of joy I had just given this family, their grief momentarily forgotten. The check came with only one string attached — that they get their puppy a harness.
An hour later I stopped over with some homemade treats for their new Pug puppy, Cassie. She was so tiny! Dennis couldn’t stop hugging her but managed to put her in my arms for a quick snuggle and some Pug kisses. We laughed over her antics and the snorting sounds she made as she got to know her new family. Cassie had made her claim on Dennis’ heart. They gave me a thank-you card and mentioned that it was Mother’s Day weekend and that this was the best present they could have gotten.
The first anniversary of Chloe’s death and the beginning of Dennis’ new life with Cassie has just come and gone. Cassie is full grown now and cute as ever. She has her harness on every time I see her, which is often, since we’ve become very neighborly. I stop over to get Pug kisses whenever I see her on the porch. Dennis and I wave to each other when we pass by, and we discuss neighborhood gossip like old friends.
It’s unfortunate that it took a tragedy to bring neighbors together, but dogs have a way of wiggling their way into our hearts, and can help the most unsociable people come out of their shell. If there’s a lesson to take away from this story, it is to make sure your dog is securely in your control at all times, especially near busy streets. Breeds such as Pugs are notorious for slipping their collars; it’ll save you later heartache to use a harness and be on the safe side.
About the Author: Heather Burt is an avid dog-lover and blogger/photographer for her blog, Hiking With Heather, where you can read about her “Outdoor Adventures With Dog.”
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