Last week, as I was rushing to pick up my daughter from the bus stop a few miles away after school, I saw a black dog wandering from the curb of a fairly busy San Francisco street and then onto the roadway. She appeared to be snortling around for some food. A car could have easily hit her. I passed her and kept driving another several yards, looking for her owner; there was no one was with her.
I had a choice: try to get the dog and quickly find her owner, while leaving my daughter freezing at the bus stop a while longer (it had turned unseasonably cold that day, and she was not at all dressed for it and had no cellphone and I was already late), or just keep going and avoid all the possible complications that come along with taking a stray off the street. (Like, say, suddenly having a new dog if you can’t find the owner and are too much of a softy to leave her at the pound.)
It took about two seconds to realize what I had to do. My daughter wouldn’t die if I left her freezing at the bus stop a little while longer, but the dog could die if a car came speeding around the corner. The dog looked kind of old. I couldn’t leave her there, away from home, with her owner possibly worried sick. Besides, if Jake were lost, wouldn’t I want someone to help him?
I pulled over and got out of the car. She looked curious, like she wanted to come to me, and I managed to convince her to get onto the sidewalk by calling to her and talking sweet nothings. But I couldn’t get her to come closer than about 10 feet before she turned and started trotting away, casting worried glances toward me as she did.
I had no treats in the car, but I did have one thing that would either draw her in or send her running: Jake. I opened the back door and grabbed his leash and he hopped out. I called to the dog and she turned around and saw Jake. She stood a few moments, then started walking toward us. Just as I’d hoped, she was put at ease by his affable, tail-wagging nature. “This lady’s not so bad after all if she has a cute and happy bloke like him around,” she was probably thinking. She gave him a sniff, and I got hold of her collar. Mission accomplished!
We were only a couple of feet from the car at this point, so I aimed her toward it and she jumped right in. Jake followed. I got a good look at her face and was immediately smitten. She was definitely an older girl, with a little white lacing her black muzzle. She appeared to be mostly Lab, but her nose seemed pointier and was actually kind of bent down at an odd-but-endearing angle at the end. The most appealing part of her were here eyes. They were big and kind of droopy, and they melted me down to my socks. “If she doesn’t have a home, maybe we’ll have a new dog.” It was just a warm and fluffy thought way back in my mind but I wouldn’t acknowledge its existence.
I saw she had a fancy rectangular brass tag plated onto her collar. It was embossed with the name, address, and phone number of her owner. This was clearly an owner who cared about his dog. Even Jake doesn’t have built-in tags on his collars. The man lived only about seven blocks away. I could run his dog home before picking up Laura. I phoned, and an elderly-sounding woman answered. I asked for the man whose name was on the tag, and told her I had found his dog. She hung up with one of those crashing hangups, not a little click. Uh-oh. I wasn’t going to just show up with a dog at the house of someone who hangs up when I mention the dog. So I decided the dog would come with us to pick up Laura and then I’d sort things out.
On the way I was stuck at a stop light for far too long, so I called the number again, thinking maybe the woman hadn’t heard me. This time when I asked for the man by name and told her I had found his dog, she yelled at me. “He’s DEAD!” and then hung up.
Wow. This was not how the script was supposed to go. She was supposed to utter a cry of joy and relief, and I would have their dog back within a half hour. Now it appeared the dog had nowhere to go. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw her sitting there quietly, looking peacefully out of the window. Jake was sprawled out on most of the rest of the backseat, leaving her little room, but she didn’t seem to mind.
I mulled the choices. There was no way I was going to turn this old girl over to animal control to have her wait in a cage to see if someone would claim her or adopt her. If she was going to wait while we tried to figure things out, she would do it in our house. And if she really was a street dog with no one to care for her, I would be thrilled to have her as a new family member. I was smitten. I wasn’t sure my husband would feel the same way, but I figured she’d grow on him.