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Friday, February 08, 2013

I’m not sure how to start this blog post or even how to write it, really. This is definitely one of those times where I truly value the therapeutic nature of writing and know that as hard as it will be relive the experience, it will help me start to feel better.

I take Joey on a brief walk every afternoon on my lunch break, and yesterday was no exception (especially with the unseasonably warm weather). Not even 5 minutes into our walk, a resident from another building approached me with his down dog, waving me down to get my attention.

“Did you see the little black Boston Terrier?” he asked, struggling to keep his large hound from barreling towards Joey. I told him I hadn’t, but based on how he posed the question, I assumed the dog belonged to a neighbor and had gone missing. 

“I’ll keep my eye out,” I said, continuing to walk since I was already running a few minutes behind.

“She’s about 15 yards ahead on your right,” he called after me.

His comment was strange, so I turned around. “What do you mean? I thought she was missing?”

“No,” he said, looking at the ground. “She was hit by a car and some people saw her limping. She’s laying in the grass up ahead on your right.”

I found against my instinct to shout, “SO YOU GUYS JUST LEFT HER THERE?” But I didn’t. I was too busy jogging to the spot he was pointing at (in my high heels, no less). Joey sprinted ahead of me, tightening the slack on his leash. He clearly thought we were playing.

After coming around a small bend, I saw a small black heap lying in the grass next to the road. I picked up my pace. 

She was lying on her side, facing away from us and staring blankly off into space. She didn’t even flinch or squirm when Joey shoved his nose in her face to investigate. She made no movements at all until I reached down to touch her. She slowly lifted her head and turned it towards me, her giant Boston Terrier eyes focusing on my face. 

Clearly I’ve had zero formal medical training with either animals or people, but I knew I shouldn’t touch or move her until I knew where she was hurt. The first thing I noticed was that she had blood coming from her mouth and nose. It doesn’t take a veterinarian’s degree to know that this was a bad sign.

“You’re okay,” I cooed softly, stroking her head. “It’s okay. Don’t be afraid.” 

My neighbor said she was limping, so for some reason I assumed it was her back legs. I didn’t want to move her, but I didn’t want to leave her outside and alone either. So I gently lifted the front half of her body in an attempt to pick her up. She didn’t fight me or yelp, she was simply dead weight leaning against me. 

Shaking from adrenaline and fear, I coaxed the rest of her small frame into my arms, careful not to squish or move her back legs, which were lying limp and lifelessly. 

She weighed maybe 15 pounds, but carrying her was awkward because I still had Joey to contend with. He was naturally curious about the dog and kept jumping at my legs to get to her. 

It took us about 5 minutes to get home, and every time I glanced down at the dog, she was staring at me with those big brown eyes. Her breathing sounded odd and I couldn’t assess if it was because of her breed (dogs with “smushed” faces tend to snort and breathe loudly) or if it was because there was blood in her mouth and throat. I tried not to think about the latter. 

I intersected my next door neighbor on our trek back home and he rushed over to us, asking what he could do to help. He took her collar and offered to call the spay-and-neuter clinic whose number was on the dog tag (there was no other number). I told him I would be in my apartment and asked that he come over if he was able to get any information about who she belonged to.

I opened the door to my apartment, wincing as I accidentally hit her legs against our door as I pushed against it. She made no sound or movement. I placed her on the carpet and she limped aimlessly down the hallway, scared and unsure of where she was. After a few awkward steps, she flopped back down on the same side I found her on near the couch. 

I locked Joey in the bathroom and then sat by the dog, already losing the battle of tears. I sobbed uncontrollably while I stroked her ears, trying my best to calm down so I could make the appropriate phone calls. 

She continued to stare off into the distance. 

I called our vet first and asked if I could bring her in. The vet technician informed me that if I did that, I would automatically assume all financial responsibility for the dog. In between fits of crying, I pleaded to her on the phone, explaining that I didn’t have the money to pay another dog’s medical bills. She wasn’t overly sympathetic, but simply suggested I take the dog to the animal shelter.

“But they’ll probably just put her down!” I cried. 

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” she said. “That’s the best suggestion I can give you.”

“I just don’t know what to do. I just don’t know what to do,” I repeated out loud to myself.  

My sister suggested I call animal control and was nice enough to provide me with our local department’s number. In hindsight, I feel terrible for calling her in my state of hysteria. She was the first person I called when I thought I cut my finger off my senior year of college, and she’s probably going to be the first person I call when my water breaks. 

Animal control was incredibly kind and they were actually the first people who asked me about the dog and her condition. I explained that she was lying on her side and that I thought at least one of her legs was broken. She managed to walk a few steps, but her back right legged had no movement. I also added that she blood around her mouth and nose. 

While I waited for animal control to arrive, there was nothing I could do but keep her comfortable and try my best to be reassuring. I pet her for several minutes, crying onto her fur and telling her she was going to be okay. I noticed that her nipples were engorged and swollen, and I wondered if she had puppies at one point. I also saw that her coat was brindle.

She was a beautiful dog. 

In between the crippling panic and tears that felt like would never stop, I felt tremendous anger towards the driver who hit her. It was broad daylight in a residential area. You cannot convince me that they didn’t know they hit a dog. I was also furious with my neighbors who obviously had walked past the dog and talked about the dog, but made no attempts to help her. 

And here I was, in my bloodied and dirtied work clothes, over a half an hour late getting back to the office.

Animal control finally arrived and by that time, my neighbor had rejoined me with the adjacent apartment complex’s manager. The owner of the dog had been determined and that in and of itself was a depressing story. 

The Boston Terrier belonged to man who died last month and she was now in the care of his son. The son was unable to come back to the apartment that day because his daughter was in the hospital. 

The animal control team assessed the dog in my living room, pinching at her legs to see if she was responsive. They immediately determined that she was paralyzed. 

I already had mascara smeared up to my forehead and my face was a red, splotchy mess. There was no use pretending like I wasn’t upset by this news. 

With the utmost care and gentleness, she was lifted into a towel and escorted to the white animal control van. I’ll never forget those big brown eyes that stared out to me from underneath the white towel. I stood and watched them leave from my doorway, sunlight streaming into my eyes so intensely that I had to shield my face with my hand. I asked if I could get an update on the dog. I was told that I could call animal control tomorrow for an update. 

They assured me they were taking her to a vet. I thanked them and closed my door, choking on the sobs that were once more starting to swell in my throat. 

It took me about half an hour to remove and reapply the make-up that had relocated itself all over my face. I changed out of my sweaty, dirtied clothes and cleaned the blood stains off of our carpet. 

And of course I let Joey out of the bathroom. 

I returned to work almost 2 hours late, my face pinched and swollen. I greeted everyone who stopped by our office with a smile and a warm “Hello”, just as always, but it was pretty obvious something wrong. I played off my red eyes and stuffy nose as allergies. 

I can be a really good actress when I need to be.

I couldn’t take the not knowing any longer and when I had a free moment, I started making phone calls to all of the local vet offices to find out where the dog had been taken. Clayton’s parents had caught wind of the situation and made the incredibly kind offer to pay for her medical bills if need be. I wanted to let the vet know that if it came down to someone paying for their services of putting her down, they would help out.

With no luck, I called the animal control office to inquire about the black Boston Terrier from the West side of town. The woman on the phone was polite, but stern, insisting that she had no information and probably wouldn’t ever be able to divulge where they took her unless I was the owner. 

Just as I was thanking her for her time and preparing to get off the phone, she interrupted me. “Well, hold on,” she said. “Let me see if I can find anything out.”

After less than a minute of being on hold, the animal control dispatch officer came back on the line.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. The dog didn’t make it.”

My breath caught in my throat and it took me a few seconds to squeak, “Okay”. 

The woman politely hung up.

I held in my ugly crying until I left work and could find sanctuary in my husband’s arms. I joked lightly with my co-workers, pretending like everything was okay. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of a dog that wasn’t even mine, especially at work, because I recognize that not all people would find this situation as dire or heartbreaking as I did. It’s in my nature to cherish dogs and the animals we own, and I was grieving this dog. 

Before I left work, I contacted the apartment complex to let the manager know the dog didn’t make it. She thanked me profusely, expressing her gratitude to me for helping the dog and for letting her know the outcome. I apologized that she was now tasked with the responsibility of telling the owner that the dog died. She took a deep breath and sighed. “I’m not looking forward to it, but he needs to know right away. He stopped in a bit ago and was beside himself. He was just crying uncontrollably.”

As twisted as it might seem, hearing her say that provided me with a little bit of comfort of my own. Knowing that this dog was so fiercely loved and was being mourned by someone else took a massive weight off of my shoulders. Since she was left to die alone outside, I was in agony thinking that no one cared enough about this dog. I felt the responsibility to grieve her wholly on my own, but knowing she was cherished by someone else made my burden so much lighter. 

I came home from work to my husband, my solace, and let everything I had been holding in all afternoon come out in a tidal wave. After several minutes of allowing myself to just be fully heartbroken, I cleaned myself up for a second time and went to bed for a much needed nap. A severe headache pound against the front of my skull, and Clayton suggested that it was probably because I wasn’t getting enough oxygen while hysterically pouring out my emotions. 

Jokingly, I suggested that if there was ever a person to accidentally kill themselves from crying, it would be me. 

I ate an entire pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream (my favorite) for dinner. Clayton stopped by the grocery store on his way home from work and wanted to get me something that might cheer me up. And that it did! Because 1.) I have a habit of eating my feelings and 2.) I have a very sweet husband.

I was tired and looked haggard, but I forced myself to go to volleyball that night, and I’m really glad I did. We didn’t win our game, but we came mighty close. Most importantly, the guys on our team kept me laughing and it was one of the first games that I felt like we really played as a team. 

I was worried about going to sleep last night because I have a tendency to dwell on bad thoughts or feelings when I’m alone and silent. I was afraid I would sit in bed all night, thinking about the sweet little dog alone in the grass. Luckily, God was merciful and sleep came quickly and easily. 

I don’t know why I was the one who was supposed to come to that dog’s rescue. I want to say that anyone would do what I did if they were in my situation, but based on the behavior of my neighbors, I know for a fact that’s not true. Let me rephrase it this way: Anyone with an ounce of compassion and concern for others would have done what I did. 

God knows I don’t handle sadness and loss well at all, but maybe He put me there because he knows I excel at loving His creatures. I wish I knew His reasoning. I wish I knew why He wanted that dog to spend her remaining minutes in my home, in my care. 

I’m considering writing a short letter to the owner of the dog, letting him know that his Boston Terrier wasn’t alone in her suffering. I want to tell him that she had the sweetest temperament and I imagine she was quite a sweetheart when she was healthy. I want to tell him I’m sorry that he lost his dad and that he’s been through a really heard time. I want to tell him that my heart is broken for his dog, too. 

I know the dog is at peace now and all things considered, everyone did everything that they could. 

I know that bad things happen.

I know that things will get better.

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2 comments

  1. Writing a letter to the owner would probably be a good thing for you to do, emotionally and mentally. And it would probably comfort him too. You said that she was left to die outside, alone, but you fixed that by doing what you did. In the end, she didn't pass with no friends or caregivers. You did the right thing, regardless of how hard it must have been. I can only imagine....

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  2. I am so sorry this is a heart breaking situation and I cried for you and that lovely dog. I am thankful that you have Clay and Joey there to comfort you. You both and Joey of course are in my prayers. I love you! ~Jeni

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