Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Dog's Story

Yesterday as I was taking our pup for a stroll around the yard (he needs to check every blade of grass for intruders at least three times a day) Cole's fur stood on end and he began growling. All kidding aside, as Cole has matured he's become a pretty intense, protective guard dog. He's also so good at spotting possum, skunks and other troublesome critters that I pay close attention when he behaves as if something isn't right.

This time trouble was big: a dark cream-colored Labrador mix about three times Cole's size, watching us from a wooded area at the very back of our property. He barked back at Cole with a deep scary woof, and since he looked like he could step over the only fence between us and have us for brunch, I decided it was time we went back inside.

I mentioned the dog to my guy. "There's a big lab back there on John's property."

"Uh-huh. Maybe someone is moving in."

A bit of backstory: John's property has been unoccupied and untended for a couple of years; the yard is filled with weeds taller than me and there are so many critters in the undergrowth my kids aren't allowed back there anymore.

It's been a tough week. I was tired, I had a thousand things to do and no time to look after someone else's dog. Just the sound of that Lab's bark scared me. But the dog being alone back there bothered me, too. I don't know why; it just did. So I walked back by myself to say hello and have a closer look at him.

I didn't try to go near him at first. He was sitting next to the gate and watching me like I was a big chew toy. I stopped a few yards away and spoke to him until I saw a reluctant wag of his tail. Then his ears drooped and he gave me a big, toothy grin. I imagined him sinking those humongous fangs into me as I kept talking to him and went a little closer, and closer, until I was near enough to hold out my hand for him to sniff through the gate.

He was big and muscular and had a funny-shaped jaw for a Lab, more like a Rotti in Lab's clothing. He also had those cool eyes of a working dog, the kind that assess you thoroughly (and yes, I do know better than to mess with a working dog.) He was also covered in mud on his underside and looked tired and thirsty. He couldn't tell me what was wrong or why he was there, but I had the feeling that he was in trouble.

There was no one on John's property and the dog made it clear that he wanted out, but the Lab was so big he couldn't even push his head through the five-inch gap in the gate. Once we'd size each other up, I crouched down to get on his eye level and see if his collar had a tag. It did, a little worn one you can get in the pet shops. It was flipped backward, though, and if I was going to read it I'd have to reach in and turn it around.

Note here for kids and adults: never do what I'm about to tell you I did. I've been around dozens of strays and hostile pets over the years and I can make a good guess as to how they'll behave, but it was still pretty stupid.

I reached inside the gate for him to sniff my hand, and he began to wag his tail and head-butted my palm. I praised him and scratched around his neck until I was sure he felt comfortable with me touching him, and then I checked his tag. I recognized the name and address engraved on it as belonging to one of the local farmers.

I left him there and went back to the house to get some water and a snack for him. In passing I updated my guy, who suggested I open the gate and let the dog out. His philosophy is, "The dog will find his way home."

I couldn't do that. I know some people are fine with letting animals run loose, but I'm not. There are also a lot of little kids in the neighborhood who are always playing outside, and plenty of traffic on our streets. I didn't know what the dog would do; it was just too risky.

The Lab slurped up an entire bowl of water I brought back to him in a few seconds and gobbled up the snack in two bites, which told me it had been awhile since he'd been watered or fed. Sometimes it's easy for dogs to get in under fences but almost impossible for them to get back out, and John's property has a triple fence: barb wire, chicken wire and wood post and slat. There was no one who would have known he was on that property but me; it's just too overgrown and wooded and everyone avoids it. I thought it was logical to assume the Lab was trapped there and couldn't get out.

Armed with that knowledge and my theory, I went back to the house and started making some phone calls. I couldn't get hold of the farmer or his family, but I left messages at the farm and on his mobile number (which was on the Lab's tag.) Then my guy and I had to run out and do some errands, and while I wasn't crazy about leaving the dog back there alone, I had described where he was in my messages and promised I would check on him when we got back.

My guy was amused by all this. "It's just a dog. He probably gets out all the time."

I'd never seen him running loose, and while I've gained a rep as the neighborhood busybody for catching any stray pet I see, this was different. I just knew that dog was in real trouble, and when we got home I was going to go back and see if I could coax him onto a lead and walk him back home. My guy thought I was blowing the whole thing out of proportion.

While we were out, my mobile rang, and it was the farmer. "We've been looking for him for days," he told me. "We even went over to the pound to see if he'd been picked up. We never would have looked over there for him."

I filled him in on the dog's condition and what I'd done, and he thanked me and promised to go pick him up at once. When we got home from our errands, the Lab was gone, and the farmer's wife had called the house and left a really lovely message thanking me and telling me how happy they were to have found him.

"See?" I crowed to my guy. "I was right."

He just shook his head. "You could have gotten your hand bitten off."

Maybe I could have, or even should have, but it felt good to know I'd helped a lost dog and contributed to this story's happy ending. There are scary things out there, and it's definitely safer not to get involved. But to paraphrase Rilke, sometimes terrible things are simply helpless, and need help from us.

Pet owners, please consider getting an ID tag for your pet engraved with your name and emergency contact info. There are plenty of places you can get them cheaply like your local pet supply store or a web site like this one. Here at Casa PBW we've also had our pets implanted with a microchip that cannot be removed or lost; if you'd like more information on this new process check out this article or talk to your vet.

Also, if you see a stray pet in your neighborhood, the safest thing to do is contact your local Animal Control officer. You can usually find the number under your city, county or municipality pages in the phone book.


  1. Bless you, Lynn, you're my kinda people.
    Definite yes on the ID tags--and glad it turned out to be a happy ending.

  2. Yay! Dog cookies for everyone!

    We had an old rottie actually show up on our door. Why he chose our door still baffles us-since at the time we already had an Australian shepherd and a very BIG rottie.

    This poor old stray had no collar and was so bony we weren't sure how long he'd been without eating. To make matters worse, he was also deaf.

    He was very sweet, so we knew he had to belong to someone. But despite signs and canvassing the neighborhood, no one called for him.

    He was so old, we were sure he'd never get adopted so we decided to keep him, and took him to the vet for all his shots and heartworm meds. Wouldn't you know it, a week later, someone finds one of our old signs and calls us.

    We hated to lose the old fella, but just to see him wag his bony butt excitedly and his mommy bursting into tears made it all worthwhile.

    I love happy endings! I'm so glad you trusted your instincts. Bless you for saving that dog. You made my day!

  3. This story got me in the gut. I know exactly why you got involved with helping this dog: because if Cole were lost, you'd want someone to help him! I would have done what you did. It's the mommy in me. I have to help all children and pets. I can't help it.

  4. Tammy8:17 AM

    You're an angel Lynn!

    I've been know to do similar things, and I ended up keeping two of the pets I found - no tags and no one claimed them after running ads in the papers.

    One was the most gentlest dog I've ever had the other was my first cat - both are gone now but I still miss them terribly.

    ::excuse me while I go wipe my eyes::

  5. Awwww. :(

    Glad you helped him out...and I'm glad he didn't bite your hand off.

  6. That's the best kind of happy ending. What a good thing you saw him.

  7. On behalf of lost dogs everywhere, thanks, Lynn. I'm so glad you found him and then found his owners for him. When I was younger, I spent a summer working for Animal Control. So many lost animals left waiting for someone to take them home... Thinking of them still breaks my heart.

  8. We have some neighbors whose dogs always get out. I feel so bad for the dogs. There are a lot of cars. makes me nervous.

    Come Get Your Sunshine

  9. That sounds like something I would say:

    Don't ever do what I did, but here's what I did.

    I'm glad you found out where he belonged and got him back safely. I've rescued a few dogs. One stayed with us.

  10. Thanks for posting this happy end for the poor lost dog. My guy and I have rescued a number of strays over the years, including a wee little parrot who seemed to have gotten attached to us.

    Our pup is microchipped and I urge every dog owner to do this. Collars and tags do come off. In fact, we found a collar, sans dog, the other day. Since it had the dog's name and a phone number embroidered on it, I called and reunited collar with pup. (Fortunately, the dog was not lost, only the collar).

  11. I'm glad you didn't listen to the doubters. No matter what other people advise, in the end, we have to live with ourselves, and regret is a terrible waste on our resources.

    Great story!

  12. You have a good soul, Lynn, but next time, let the animal control guy flip over the tag, and then you can call the owner. You need your hands for writing.

    I had an odd dog story. One day my wife and I were walking home, and a loose dog decided we were it's best friend. This was before we had cell phones, so all we could do was let it follow us.

    We kept passing neighbors, and they would ask in a slightly annoyed tone "Is that your dog?" no doubt planning to lecture us on getting it a leash.

    My wife asked what we should do, so I said, "If nothing else, we shouldn't try to stop it if it tries to leave. If it follows us home, we'll call the number on the tag. If it runs off, we'll call animal control." After about half a mile, the owners showed up, opened their car door and the dog jumped right into the back seat.

    Not as dramatic as your story, but I'll never forget the day a dog decided to take a walk with us.

  13. So glad you were able to get the lab back with his family. Such a sweet and wonderful story.

  14. I probably would have echoed your husbands sentiments but I pat you on the back for going above and beyond.

  15. More people should be like you. You don't know the relief of getting a dog back until you've lost one.

    I couldn't leave a dog that might be lost wandering free either. My own dog has had an engraved tag with his name/our number since we brought him home as a puppy.

  16. If you can't afford a name/address tag in these tough times, the Humane Society of Canada will send you a personalized one free ( ) anywhere in Canada and the US.

    Of course, if you can afford it, they also take much-needed donations.

    Thanks for helping out the lost dog!

  17. Im so glad you went with your gut that there was something wrong and took that chance to help him. My hub and I have rescued a few dogs and a cat over the years because we couldn't bear the thought of them going to the pound (after searching for their owners of course, except for one dog that was badly abused and abandoned).
    Don't litter. Spay and neuter your pets. :P

  18. Emily5:11 PM

    Good job! There should be more people like you in the world. For the dog-saving, and oh yeah, the writing too. ;-)

  19. YAY Lynn. We were given instincts for a reason, and I'm glad you followed yours. A lost animal is a scary thing. for the animal, and the family who lost them. Good job.

  20. What a great piece of writing!
    I have a new blog devoted to similair writing about dogs. I respectfully ask you and your readers to check it out. I don't think you'll be disappointed. Thanks.

  21. I'd have done exactly the same thing. Well, I have, so yeah, I just keep doing it.

    The microchips are awesome! We have them and it's so nice to know that should one of our dobes get away from us (we never let them out unless we're out there with them, even though they're on a run) that we'll be contacted of a good samaritan helps them like you did.

    Good for you!

  22. You rock Lynn!! What a perfect divine coincidence, you spotting that poor pup and all. I agree, as you said, one should never reach into an enclosed area to pet an animal, but you're not just anyone and He knew that when he sent you. Thank you for answering the call. Many Hugs to you and yours, Nina.


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