THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER PART I: DISCOVERY
“High and dry in the long hot day…
Lost and lonely in every way…
Got the flats all around, sky up above…
Guess I need a little water of love.
I’ve been too long and lonely and my heart feeling pain…
Crying out for some soothing rain…
I believe I’ve taken enough…
Yes I need a little water of love.”
(Dire Straits - WATER OF LOVE)
30 July 2001
Baker Shift (8X4)
Approximately 1500 Hours
3308 St. Ambrose Avenue
It’s hot today. Brutally hot. The kind of East Coast hot that makes people squirm and spit venom at one another. So it comes as no great surprise when I receive a call for several armed persons inside a nearby location fighting. I respond along with Officer Brian McCallister and Officer James Reynolds. We arrive almost together, all three of us coming from different directions. As we approach the house, Brian mentions that he received a similar call to this house earlier today for almost the same type of incident, and that the house seemed vacant when he came before. The door had been boarded up, he explained, and nailed shut. He had to kick the door open on his first visit, and we all saw the broken down door lying halfway into the dwelling. Brian is worried that this call might be an IID set up, so we proceed inside, cautiously scanning the area for planted drugs that we are “supposed” to find. (Internal Affairs will frequently set up sting operations where they plant drugs at a location, then call 9-1-1 and claim that someone “has a gun” or someone is “getting killed” or some other “serious” type crime is occurring. Then they sit back in a blacked out van and wait for that lazy, corrupt cop that they know is out there to come and find the drugs. The lazy, corrupt cop then either arrives and steals the drugs, or worse, he never even gets out of the car.)
So, Brian, Jimmy Reynolds and myself make our way into this broken down, disaster-zone of a house. I ask the dispatcher to hold the air while we search the location. We start on the first floor. The place looks like a hurricane struck very recently. Imagine if you can, eating every meal from the time of your birth until the time of your fiftieth birthday, wearing all of those different clothes in between. After each meal and following each and every change of clothes, you simply drop these discarded items wherever you feel like. That is what this house looks like. Piles of dirty dishes scattered everywhere; lumps of dirty clothes in every corner and all around the rooms. Piles of used electronics, VCR’s, TV’s, stereos…everywhere. Dripping water from the faucet in the kitchen sink. At least I think it is the kitchen. Hard to tell with the amount of shit on the floor. Literal shit. Thought I was in the bathroom at first glance. Mold and mildew on the walls. Holes in the ceiling where water trickled through like some post-apocalyptic bomb shelter that had not survived the fall out. The back door kicked inward so Ryan checks the back yard for those mysterious “armed persons” that we have been sent to deal with. Not there. Brian and I proceed upstairs, sloshing our way up the dangerously wet staircase; every step signaling our location to anyone hiding upstairs. There are three bedrooms on the second floor and a bathroom. More shit in there…even in the shower.
“Jesus!” I think. “How can any human live like this? Animals.”
We clear two of the three rooms and the bathroom and still find no one inside. As we start toward the staircase to re-check the first floor for any “planted” drugs, I hear someone moving inside the third bedroom to my left. This room is the very first one at the top of the staircase, and we almost missed it because the door had been closed. In fact, upon later reflection, we realize that the door had been to our backs as we had cleared the other rooms on that floor. Not very safe at all. I immediately motion to McCallister and Reynolds to freeze. The sound had been oh so slight, but it was there. I was sure of it. Someone is inside that room.
We back up and flank the door. I am on the left, Brian in the center and Jimmy on the staircase to the right of the door. I key up the mic:
“Fourteen, we have somebody inside the second floor room. Gimmie some more units.”
Units come and secure the back in case our suspects decide to jump out the window. I glance at Brian and Jimmy. We all have our guns drawn on the door. I take the lead, as I had throughout our search. After all, it is my call even though the house is located on Thirteen Post and Reynolds is working Thirteen car today. (The fact that I had been assigned a call on Thirteen Post when Thirteen car was available for calls is another issue entirely…)
"Police!” I shout at the door. “Open the door!”
No reply at all. But there is movement. This time we all hear it.
“Police!” shouts McCallister.
“Open the fucking door asshole before you get shot!” Reynolds has such a way with words.
(Reynolds used to work at Rykers Island Prison in New York before venturing south to our fair city, so his curtness was to be expected. I always liked that about him. One time while I was bitching about a particular Sergeant that had a habit of rubbing me the wrong way, Reynolds interrupted my twenty-minute tirade by stating flatly, “He’s a dick.” That was it. End of discussion. Nothing more needed to be said. New Yorkers have such a way with words that they can sum up twenty minutes of yelling, bitching and complaining about a person in three words. “He’s a dick.” Amen.)
Still no answer at the door.
“One last chance.” I think to myself. “Open the door! This is the Police!”
It is at this exact moment that all three of us notice something that should have been very obvious. We all see it at the same time, and we all should have noticed it much sooner. The door has been dead bolted from the outside. Bolted and padlocked. Whoever was in there couldn’t open the door even if they wanted to. For one ridiculous moment I think that maybe whoever is inside this room came in from the second floor window, so I check with the units outside via the radio.
“Negative. That window is too high and there is no balcony to climb up.”
Well, whoever it is isn’t coming out, so we decide to go in. Brain starts kicking the door as Jimmy and I check our sight lines so as not to shoot him in the back. Brian thrusts the first kick and his right foot plows straight through the thin plywood door.
“Shit!” Brain cries.
Here we are, three cops, guns drawn and McCallister with his foot stuck in the door. The Keystone Cops. I grab Brian and pulled him out while Jimmy stars kicking above Brian’s newly created hole. We soon get the door cracked enough to push it open. When we do, however, the door jams on the carpet inside the room. We keep pushing and shouting into the room until we finally move the door back far enough to see inside. And what we find breaks my heart so deeply that I have to actively hold back the tears.
The smell hits me first. Inside the room are piles and piles of feces, human, or so I think. I gaze inside the room, taking it all in. The floor and ceiling are almost completely rotted away from water damage and the carpet stinks of mildew and shit. And then I see it. I almost miss it at first; the movement is so slight…so…defeated. In the left corner of the room, cowering under a small, broken down dresser, is a tail. The shaking, quivering tail…of a dog. The dog is huddled under the dresser in total fear and pain, and it isn’t until she crawls out from under her safe hiding place that the true extent of human savageness becomes apparent.
The dog is so thin the you can touch both sides of her rib cage just by forming the letter “C” with your hand and placing it along her spine. That is if the dog lets you get close enough to touch. She tries to stand and fails several times. As she makes her way out from under the dresser…I am at first struck by how amusing this whole scene is. The three of us kicking and screaming for some armed gunman to come out, and all the while it is this poor, timid dog growing more scared with every kick we plant onto the failing door. But that feeling quickly passes into terrible anguish at the sight of this dog and her monumental struggle to stand. I scan the room for signs that she had been left in here with some amount of food, knowing by the sight of her that she had not been. There is nothing in the room but broken furniture and massive amounts of dog feces. It is not until much later that the full impact of this sight will manifest itself into the realization that whomever left this dog in this room did so in order to cause her to die a slow and painful death. Even worse…they intended to kill her. And it will be even more time before the true horror of what we find in this room today will grab hold of me; while driving out to visit my dad on a day off; and force me to call my wife at her work and sob so forcefully into the cell phone that I almost drive my car off the road: “I don’t want this dog to die.”
McCallister and Reynolds quickly make their way down the steps, calling for the dispatcher to “open the air,” thus allowing things to return to normal on the radio. In truth, I think they can’t bear the sight of this mongrel dog. She is a German Shepherd mixed breed, approximately four feet long and approximately two feet high. She is mostly black, with caramel colored legs and flecks of white in her fur. I stand there frozen, just outside of the filthy death trap of a room, amazed and horrified. I want to cry. I decide to search for food instead. I dart down to the kitchen and pour through every cabinet and cupboard searching for any kind of dog food that I can find.
“Surely there must be a can of Alpo or something in here.” I mutter to myself. “I mean, who the hell has a dog and no food?”
Nothing. Not one can, not one crumb of dog food anywhere in this entire shit hole. The best I can find is a box of stale corn flakes. Not even a name brand. I grab a bowl from the counter and the box and head for the front door thinking that the mutt must have made it outside to freedom. I find only McCallister and Reynolds, standing on the front porch, taking in the sun. It is oppressively hot today, and that will factor into my thoughts many more times in the days and months to come. As I turn to head back into the house, I see her standing there. She is at the top of the staircase, looking down at me with eyes that I immediately know I will never; not as long as I live and breathe; ever forget.
She is shaking terribly and hardly able to stand. Her back legs are quivering in a tremendous effort to keep her up, and her front legs are spread apart in a strange upside down “V” shape. But it is her eyes that burn me deepest. By all accounts, this dog is dead. Locked in that upstairs back room for what had to be months judging by the amount of feces in the room with her, with no food or water whatsoever; save for the water leaking in from the ripped open ceiling, this dog should have been dead. But her eyes tell a different story. They carry a look of total resolve and relief. They speak to me and they say: “Don’t you fail me. I am not dead yet.” It is at this exact moment, with sweat smearing my eyes…or perhaps it is tears…that I decide to save this dog no matter what the cost.
I set the bowl down on the porch and pour the cereal into it. I begin calling to her to come down the steps. Her tail begins to move…ever so slightly…back and forth. I call and I call. Even Brian joins in. But she just can’t make it. The steps are too great. She just stands there at the top of the staircase and looks at me. Into me. “Don’t you fail me. I am not dead yet.”
I walk slowly up the steps and straddle her from behind. I lift her hindquarters gently and help her down the steps, one step at a time.
“Take your time girl.” I say as I choke back the tears. It is a phrase I will use often with her in the coming months.
She never once barks or growls…she just keeps pushing herself forward. We reach the porch and she flops down in front of the bowl, dipping her face into it and scarffing the cereal down. She eats so fast that she starts to choke. I don’t think I need to describe how quickly or how much she eats…you can just imagine being that hungry and depraved yourself.
Worried that the cereal is too dry, I venture back into the kitchen and fill another bowl with water. When I return, I pour more cereal into the bowl with water and she starts lapping it up. When she finishes, she proceeds to vomit all of the cereal onto the porch. Having been deprived of food for so long, her belly just isn’t able to handle anything being forced into it. She then begins to lap eagerly at the vomit.
Imagine being so hungry that you would eat your own vomit without hesitation. Without. Hesitation.
The residents of 3310 St. Ambrose Avenue have come out onto their porch to see why the Police are banging around in the next-door neighbor’s house, and I quickly ask if they have any dog food in their house. Luckily, they do. The neighbor returns with a huge bag of dry dog food, which I proceed to pour into the first, now empty, bowl. When I try to move the bowl of wet cereal away, she snaps quickly but timidly at my hand. Understandable, considering. It will be the only time that she ever snaps at me. I slide the bowl of dry dog food in front of her and she decides that this is a much more appealing meal than fresh, hot vomit. I pause to decide what to do next. My training and expertise tells me that I have to call Animal Control, but my humanity tells me that to do that would certainly mean she will be put to death in some rotting, dank cage. I decide to call my wife instead.
“Honey…” I shyly ask when she answers the phone at her desk, “How pissed would you be if I brought home a dog?” My exact words. Silence.
“You found a dog? What kind of dog?” She does not sound pleased, nor did I expect her to.
“A stray dog.”
I proceed to explain what we found, and although she feels terrible, I can tell the answer will be “No.” After much discussion, we agree that the best course of action, given that we do not know this dog’s history or temperament, is to call Animal Control and have them take the dog… for the time being. Maybe after she recovers, we can think about adopting her. Maybe…
During this phone conversation, a young black female who had been walking up the street toward the house pushes the fence open and steps up onto the porch. She can’t be more than sixteen, and McCallister and Reynolds just stare at her…then me. I hang up the phone and watch in amazement as this girl sits down on a rickety metal chair on the front porch. The concrete porch is covered with a bright green turf-type carpet that is patchy and ridden with holes, and the concrete underneath screeches as she slides the chair under her weight.
“Do you live here?” I start.
“Yeah.” She seems almost bored by our presence, as if this is a regular occurrence. It probably is given the neighborhood.
“Where are your parents?” I am starting to realize that a family actually lives inside this dwelling. And that means that someone knew that this dog was in there…dying.
“My mom’s at work.”
She has yet to look directly at the dog, but I know immediately that she saw her lying there beside a pile of vomit and strewn dog food. The girl could have cared less.
“When will she be back?” My patience is starting to wear thin, and I think it shows.
“I don’t know.” More boredom.
I decide to break the silence that is hanging over the poor dog ever since this girl arrived.
“Whose dog is this?” I ask, eyeing her carefully. (Always watch the hands and eyes. They always convey the heart of a person.)
“She ain’t mine.”
She. The girl said she.
“Well then, who does she belong to?” My sarcasm is thick. Dripping.
“And where is your uncle?”
“A year ago.”
“A year ago?”
I am fucking amazed. No way this dog survived without food or water for a year. No way. I am still trying to figure out where all of the feces came from without food to produce it, when I finally settle on the idea that she must have begun eating her own excrement at some point. That cinches it for me. I decide to go all out with this girl.
“Then how long has she been in there?” I am almost screaming at her as I point inside the house and up the stairs.
“That ain’t my dog.”
She keeps stressing the words “mine” or “my” in a vain attempt to remove herself from the situation, as if these words could remove the guilt of her conspiracy in the crime. My already thin patience is starting to split at the seams, unraveling like a thread pulled from a sweater.
“Look, we have established that the dog does not belong to you, but that does not change the fact that she has been locked away - from the outside of the door mind you - for…how long now?”
“That ain’t my dog.”
She says it with the exact same flat, matter-of-factness that she said it with the first two times, as if she would rather be watching Jerry Springer or some other mindless show on television and we are merely taking up time beforehand.
“Well, look young lady, who else lives here with you? Your mother and who else?”
“My little brother.”
“And where is he right now?”
Then I say something that if said to a far more caring, sensitive or intelligent person would have surely gotten me a Supervisor’s Complaint:
“How the fuck do you all live like that?”
Brian and Jimmy; who had up until this point have been letting me run the show; both look up in slight surprise. No doubt Jimmy will deny this, but I swear I see him smile at that one. And yet, I persist:
“I mean…look in there? How do you even get inside? We came here earlier and the door was nailed shut from the outside. We thought the house was vacant! This Officer” -pointing to McCallister, who is smiling wryly himself - “had to kick it open just to get in.”
She just stares at me with a glazed over look.
“We climb through the window.”
“Through the window? Jesus Christ. Does your Mother have proof that you all are allowed to live here? Because if not, in addition to being charged with cruelty to animals, I will certainly bang you with trespassing.”
“What kind of proof?”
“Like a rental agreement. A lease. Anything? BGE bills?”
“I dunno. We ain’t even got no power in there.”
I really don’t think that she does know about her mother’s ability to provide documentation, but man am I pissed at this heartless girl. Brian, upon hearing this news of no gas and electric, whispers to me that I “better let go of this before it turns into a child neglect case.” He is damn right. It is close to shift change, as cruel as that sounds, and I have no intention of “rescuing” any kids from a home that their mother was allowing them to grow up in. Especially if none of them cared one iota about this poor dog.
I ask the dispatcher to notify Animal Control that we have a stray dog and, after a time, she advises that they will be responding. Like I said, it is getting close to shift change, and I want to get things moving. The heat is getting to me and I begin to fear that I will lose it right here in front of my fellow officers. I keep repeating out loud: “I want to keep this dog.” I begin to devise a way to possibly save her. I figure that if Animal Control could promise not to destroy her, I could let her get healthy in their care and then see how her temperament was. After all, Animal Control is staffed by vets, right? So why not let them patch her up for a few days, and in the meantime, I could work on convincing Mindy to let me try to find her a good home. Anywhere was better than here. But I know that we are not ready for a dog. After all, we already have a very selfish and proud cat that we rescued three years ago, and the idea of introducing a dog into the mix just didn’t seem like a good idea. Plus, children are in our future plans, and both Mindy and I were concerned how a stray dog would react around them. But, at this point my only concern is to find her a good home, if she survives long enough. I return my attention to the girl for a minute, and discover that she has been passing the time by biting her nails.
“You do know that you could all go to jail for what you have done to this dog?”
The reply is no surprise to any of us…even her: “That ain’t my dog.”
“Be that as it may, this is a crime young lady. Animal cruelty is a very serious offense. How could you leave her up there without food or water?”
“I give her a bone sometimes.”
“A BONE?!” Damn this girl is thick headed. It is Ryan who chimes in this time, speaking directly to me with that thick New York accent:
“You know she don’t give a shit about herself, so how can you expect her to care about an animal?”
This causes the girl to stare hard at Ryan, who seems to enjoy riling her. Let’s be honest here folks, sometimes all you can do is fuck with someone…especially if you don’t intend to lock them up. And juveniles - anyone under the age of eighteen - just aren’t worth the paperwork involved. Not at shift change anyway. Remember what I have previously stated: work hard for eight hours and go home. And we are about to go home.
Animal Control arrives and a large black man steps out of the truck with his long dog pole. He looks like a veteran. I approach him and after some small talk about how we came to be here, he looks around the corner of the porch and sees her for the first time. The look of shock is unmistakable.
“Damn man. I been doing this for fifteen years and I aint never seen nothing like this.”
Here was a man who, for all intents and purposes, had seen almost every kind of mutt, stray and abandoned animal in the city; and believe me when I tell you, there are a lot of them out there, and yet the sight of this mangled, deprived dog made him shudder. I decide now is the time. I make my offer:
“If you guys are gonna kill this dog, then I’ll take her right here and now and you can just leave. I’ll take her to a vet out in the county and get her healthy myself. But, if you can promise me that you won’t put her down…maybe I can adopt her or find her a good home.”
The Animal Control Officer thinks about this for a minute and says:
“Well, we hold ‘em for only five days, and if no one comes forward to claim ‘em, we put ‘em down.” Then he turns his attention to the girl. “Young lady, you care if we take this dog?”
“That ain’t my dog.”
My mind is racing now, processing things as fast as I can. I had always thought that I worked well under pressure, but I think a better analogy would be one that I recently read in an article by James Ellroy in GQ magazine: “We perform more efficiently, not necessarily better.” I was becoming more efficient as shift change approached.
The Animal Control Officer continues to the girl, “Well young lady, somebody done some damage to that dog. Somebody should go to jail for that.” She just shrugs her shoulders. He turns to me: “Five days is all I can promise.”
“Do you have vets there that can treat her?”
“Oh yeah, we got vets. But we can only hold her for five days. Then we gotta put her down. We just ain’t got the room.”
I had decided. It’s amazing how quickly a life can be decided. Live or die. Up to me. Right now, one answer, yes or no.
“Can you give me your name or the name of someone that I can contact about the dog in the next day or so?”
“Yeah, I’ll give you a receipt and a number you can call. You’ll wanna talk to the Vet Tech Supervisor. She be in tomorrow around ten.”
“Ok. You take her and I’ll call tomorrow.”
I am relieved. This officer seemed sincere and he had been kind enough to hear me out. He didn’t have to. After all, it was probably very near the end of his shift as well. He takes the dog pole and loops it around the dog’s neck. Most dogs, upon having a dog pole looped around their neck, will begin to fight and growl and pull away. This dog, however, does the most amazing thing. She turns her face to the pole and starts licking it. She is so overjoyed to be leaving this rotting deathtrap that she actually trots - as best she can in her weakened state - toward the truck. As we leave the porch, I turn back to the girl and say:
“Be advised young lady…I will be back here to talk to your mother, and you bet she will be facing some very serious charges.”
Her reply is a dull as her demeanor during the entire scene: “Whatever.”
The officer then marches the dog to the side of the truck and lifts her into the caged opening. The door creaks shut, and just as it does, I see those eyes once again.
“Don’t you fail me. I am not dead yet.”
He fills out the pink receipt and I sign it. He then writes the name of the Vet Tech Supervisor, Ms. Caroline Marconi, on the slip. I promise to call, and with that, he takes her away. The shift ends shortly thereafter, and I leave feeling that I have at least saved her from dying in that abyss of filth. I figure that if she doesn’t survive the week, she will at least die peacefully far away from 3308 St. Ambrose Avenue. I am so relieved to have helped get her free, and I hope against hope that I will be able to adopt her to a good home. Little do I know then that it will be a full week, and many angry phone calls later, before I would see her again. I had no idea then that when I signed that pink receipt, I had actually signed her death warrant.
The next day is a day off, so I wake early and wait until 1000 hours to call. By 0950 hours, I cannot wait anymore. I grab the cordless phone from the wall in the kitchen and make my way over to the sink. Our kitchen is in the back of our four-story townhouse, and beyond the sink in an overlook that allows a view down into the first floor rec room. There are two large windows on the wall opposite the sink, to the right of the door out to the second floor deck, and below them, on the first floor, is a sliding glass door that exits out under the deck. As the dial tone comes alive in my ear, I start thinking about the dog running outside in our back yard. No ghetto streets filled with speeding cars and cries of open-air drug markets. No dirty junkies with their filth crusted hands smacking at her backside because she moved too slow. No rats, mice or any other kind of vermin to gnaw at her feet as she tried to sleep. Nothing but cool, clean air and grass. Oh the grass! And trees! Holy shit, the trees!
“Hello? Hello?” I barely notice that someone has picked up on the other end of the line.
“Yes…hello?” I stammer.
“Animal Control.” It is a female voice. Maybe it is Caroline.
“Yes, this is Officer **** from the Police Department,” God I love saying that to people. It seems to command attention. And I have noticed that people are always more willing to help when you start your request with “this is Officer So and So from the Police Department…” I continue: “Can I speak to Caroline Marconi please?”
The female voice on the other end pauses for a second before answering.
“Um, she is on vacation until Friday. Can I help you?”
Friday? But today is Tuesday! What am I going to do until Friday? They might kill her by then!
“Well, maybe you can. I had a dog brought in yesterday from 3308 St. Ambrose Avenue in the Northwest. When I spoke to the officer from your facility, he advised me to call and speak to Caroline about possibly adopting the dog.”
I proceed to explain my desire to bring the dog home, or at least find her a good home, but that I need some information about her condition first. The night before, my wife and I discussed exactly what we might do about the dog, and we both agreed to first find out if she was healthy. My wife had still been very reluctant about the entire situation, and in truth, I couldn’t blame her. She was selfishly - and correctly - concerned about the expense of getting this dog healthy, along with the fear that it may get healthy and turn out to be mean-spirited. After all, we had no idea what kind of abuse this dog had faced in the past. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that the dog was just not that way. It was the eyes. I know it sounds crazy, but they spoke to me.
The voice on the end of the line places me on hold to search for the paperwork on the dog. When she returns, she sounds chipper.
“Yep, I’ve got it right here. 3308 St. Ambrose Avenue. Now what is it you want to know again?”
“Her condition, her temperament, anything you can tell me.”
“Well, she is resting now. She’s eating and resting.”
I reiterate my desire to bring her home, and ask about the five-day window of opportunity.
“Well, Caroline would make the ultimate decision about adoption, and as I stated, she won’t be back until Friday, but given the situation, I don’t see why you couldn’t come in and get her then.”
“Get her Friday, you mean?” I am surprised. Happily. I still don’t know the dog’s disposition or health issues, but I figure that Caroline will look into that when she came back from wherever she was. Or at least a vet would do so before then.
“Yes, I don’t see why not.”
“That’s great news. So I’ll call back Friday and speak to Caroline about this and maybe pick her up after work?”
“Yes, call back Friday. She usually gets in around ten.”
I thank her and hang up. Over the course of the next two days, I work on convincing Mindy that we need to do this. I need to do this. I promise that all I want to do is get her out of there and into a good home. It doesn’t need to be our home…just a good one. And I mean it. I call my dad and ask him to check with people he might know that want a dog. When my dad first hears about it, the first words out of his mouth are:
“You know we can’t keep her.”
Yeah, I know. But secretly, I am hoping. At least then I can visit her. But dad already has a dog, a Boxer with a temper when it comes to other dogs. He also has a huge house in the country with lots of land for just such a dog to roam freely on. I grew up with stray dogs and cats all of my life. Over the course of my twenty-nine (so far) years, my family rescued at least ten dogs and cats from certain death. (More cats than dogs.) Don’t get the wrong idea, I didn’t grow up on Animal Farm, it’s just the we always had a dog or two along with some cats around the house. I still love to tell the story of how my mom found my favorite dog, Nicholas.
My oldest sister had just left home for college at American University in Washington, D.C., and I think my mom missed her. She had been shopping at the Giant Food Store in Severna Park, Maryland when she saw a box that had been left in front of the store, just outside the main entrance. Inside the box was a small, gray, black and white dog. It was howling in fear and sadness. She said that when she was all the way inside the store, at the very back by the meat counter, she could still her that poor dog crying every time the doors slid open out front. This was over the sound of the piped in music, the frozen food freezers, the customers and the carts. She decided that if that silly dog were still there when she left, she would bring it home. The dog was still there when she left.
Oddly enough, my father-in-law had done the same a few years after my wife had graduated from Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland. She was moving out to get her own place and he snagged a stray dog from a junkyard and brought it home, much to his wife’s dismay. And when that one passed away, he went and got another one just like it. That one is still with us. And now that I think about it, my dad did the exact same thing when I left for UMBC in Catonsville, Maryland. That’s when he got his Boxer from the Boxer Rescue League. Funny how people need to replace things like that. Even other people. And I still kid my dad about the fact that his dog gets better treatment than I ever did when I lived at home!
And like so many children of the seventies and the eighties, I blame my parents. It’s their fault that I care so deeply about strays.
So, I continue my search for a home for the dog from the ghetto. My wife asks around at her work. My mother-in-law asks at her job. I call friends. We even consider putting an ad in the paper. And it is during this search that I make that sobbing phone call to my wife at work.
I am driving to my dad’s house to pick up some papers related to my car when I begin listening to a song on my CD player from The Last of the Mohicans movie soundtrack. The song is called “Promontory” and it is featured in the final scene in the film in which Daniel Day Lewis’s character is trying to rescue his lover’s sister from a rival Indian tribe. The scene is, for me, a very emotional one and no matter how many times I see it, it has the same effect on me each time. Words just don’t do it justice. You have to see it with the music and the scenery and the camera angles all in one shot to feel the impact. As I am driving, I keep seeing the dog in my mind. The way she struggled just to stand. The sadness and hope in her eyes. It all creeps up on me, and with the music blaring it’s saddest notes, I just let go. It all overwhelms me. I begin to sob uncontrollably. The single thought that keeps screaming in my mind is:
“I don’t want this dog die.”
I call my wife at her job and begin sobbing into the phone. I beg. I can’t stand the thought of that dog suffering one minute more. I argue that if the Animal Control people want to put the dog to sleep out of mercy, then that is one thing, but to do it simply because no one wants her…then that is not acceptable. I want her out of there and I cannot bear the idea of letting her die such a lonely and horrible death. She needs to know that she is loved. And I reiterate what I saw in that dog’s eyes. There was life left. I know it.
The phone call changes something in her, I think. She understands now how much I need to do this. I had seen enough death in my life. This dog deserves a chance. The only question is, would I be able to give her one. When I finally hang up the phone, I feel sure that I will be.
But all of that changed on Friday morning.