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.
Laura was shivering when I picked her up at the bus stop. But when she saw the beautiful old doggy in the back seat, she too melted. “Oh my god! She’s so cute!!! Is she OURS? I love her!” She reached back to stroke the dog’s head, and the dog leaned into her hand. I told her she’d probably be ours if the dog really was homeless, but we’d have to do more investigating first.
Once back home, the dog didn’t want to come upstairs. She just sat by the front door, which is mostly beveled glass, and looked out sadly. Hmm, that sure didn’t seem like something a street dog would do. Maybe she had a home after all. She seemed to be chilly, so I put Jake’s doggy blanket on her.
Her rabies tag was current, and it hailed from the veterinary clinic I use, so I called and explained the situation. The wonderful receptionist looked up the tag number and provided me with an entirely different set of contact info than was on the dog’s tag. And she gave me the dog’s name: Cricket. As soon as I said her name, Cricket’s ears perked up.
I called the number, realizing that Cricket was probably not going to be ours after all. I was a little sad, but the way she was looking out the door it seemed clear she had a home and that’s where her heart was. No one answered the phone, but the address was very close to ours, so Laura and I bundled up and walked her there. A man was just walking into his garage when he saw us with Cricket. She gave a wag, and I told him what had happened. He’d just gotten home and didn’t even know she was gone. He was very happy she was found before he had to go through the torment of realizing she was lost. He wasn’t sure how she got out, but figured the door must not have shut properly when he or his dad who lives with him last used it.
The tag was still a puzzle to me, but he quickly sorted that out. The dog had belonged to his father’s good friend, and when the friend died, the wife couldn’t care for the dog by herself, and bequeathed Cricket to him. He and his dad had been meaning to get a new collar for years, or at least a new tag, and said that he was finally going to, now that it was such a close call. I mentioned that our vet could also microchip her, but I’m not sure he went for that idea.
So it ended well, but it got me wondering: What if I’d been rushing to a meeting downtown and couldn’t take a dog with me? Or what if I were heading out of town when I found her? Or what if she weren’t the appealing dog she was, but rather a somewhat off-putting, super fearful or somewhat aggressive sort? Would I have taken her into my car? Would I have been willing to house her instead of turn her in to authorities? If I took that fictional dog to animal control, would I give the Call Before Euthanizing request so I could get her back if her number came up? And would I take her back if that happened? (Been there, done that, ended up with a dog for a month before finding him a great owner.)
And of course when I think these sorts of thoughts, I think of you, my kind-hearted Dogster friends. I’d love to know what you’d do if you’d run across Cricket or another dog and you were in a rush to get somewhere. I imagine some of you have had personal experiences along these lines. It would be great if you could share what you’ve done in these impromptu rescues of sweeties like Cricket and more “difficult” dogs. Have you passed a dog by because you just couldn’t face the possible consequences? Or have you ended up with new household members after stopping? Please share your stories so we can all learn!