There’s an old saying that if you save someone’s life, you are thereafter responsible for him/her. I certainly felt that way recently when my husband and I rescued a lost dog in our neighborhood.

It was Friday the 13th (of August), and we were just driving home from having walked our four Westies through nearby Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis. I had just minutes to get changed and ready to drive to Stockholm, Wis., some 70+ miles away, to do a reading from my book “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss” at the Dog Days of Stockholm event. Just as I was about to turn in to our garage, I saw a smallish, ratty-looking, presumably white-at-some-previous-time dog wandering down the alley. Despite the time constraints, something compelled us to investigate.

We dropped off our pooches in our yard and grabbed a water jug and some kibble and set about trying to track down the stray and hopefully return it to its home. It had been well over 90˚ for most of the previous week, and I knew, at very least, this dog would be needing water.

As I followed it on foot, my husband, Anthony, rode his bike slowly. The dog was wary and would only let us get within several yards of it before it trotted off again. When I got close enough to really see this dog, my heart constricted at the sight. I would have guessed it was a poodle/lasa mix of some sort, but it was filthy. It’s fur was entirely matted, with a huge chunk of it torn out of its flesh and dragging along the ground as it walked, apparently still attached by the matts themselves to other sections of fur! Its back half was mostly bald with sores aplenty all over the inflamed skin. Naturally, there was no collar or identification.

We softly, soothingly cajoled it to stop for some water. It kept trotting along in the heat for several more long blocks. It finally went into someone’s yard and laid down in the grass beneath a tree and panted. I sat down carefully near it and presented the water dish and a handful of kibble, both of which it ignored. I knew better than to touch it because I had no idea whether it would snap and whether it had parasites or mange that I might transfer to my own dogs, but I knew if it didn’t drink something soon, it would surely die.

By now, Anthony was urging me to walk away because we were going to be late to the Stockholm event. I begged him to go home and get his cell phone so we could call Minneapolis Animal Control. He came back with the phone and a long, thin nylon rope. He fashioned this into a makeshift leash that would tighten if the dog pulled but then loosen again when it stopped pulling. As I called Animal Control and made the report, Anthony dropped the leash carefully over the dog’s head, which the dog allowed without struggle, and secured him to the tree trunk. I found an old margarine tub in a kids’ sand box in the next yard and poured the water I had into it and placed it by the dog. We wanted to be sure the dog was still where we told the Animal Control operator it would be after we left.

The operator advised us not to wait, as it could take some considerable time before someone would be out to collect the dog. We then went to the door of the house in whose yard the dog was secured and let the owner know we’d called for someone to pick up the dog. Thankfully, he was kind enough to allow this and not demand we remove the animal from his yard.

We then rushed home and readied ourselves to leave for Wisconsin. There was a sudden torrential downpour that lasted about five minutes (Minnesota is known for having some wacky weather). I felt terrible for the dog that was still outdoors, but at least he had some shelter from the large tree, I reasoned, and perhaps this rain would help to cool him off, too.

On the way to Wisconsin, I found myself bawling my eyes out over this poor creature. I knew it was in terrible shape and felt its refusal to eat or drink might have indicated it was getting ready to die. I said prayers that, if that was the case, at least its last experiences of humans would be ones of kindness and compassion, and that its euthanasia would be peaceful, painless, and quickly end its obviously protracted suffering.

When we were coming home much later that evening, I was too terrified to look in the yard. I didn’t know how overwhelmed they were at Animal Control, and I knew I couldn’t take it if the dog were still tied to that tree all those hours later. I closed my eyes like a big wuss and asked Anthony to look for me. Much to my relief, the dog and the leash were both gone.

I cried still further that night, praying for the best possible outcome for this suffering dog. I decided to email the Animal Control office and at least ask them to confirm they’d gotten the dog. I stated in my message I realized it might have to be put down and asked them to let me know what happened.

That was over the weekend, so I heard nothing until the following week. A to-the-point email message stated that the dog had been picked up and that a rescue organization was interested in him! He’d survived, and might have a chance at a good life yet! I was beside myself with joy!

I was moved to make a donation of one of my books to the Animal Control office staff, and when I stopped by with it, I spoke briefly with the woman who’d emailed me. She said they believed the hair loss was due to severe allergies rather than mange. She cautioned me that the dog was still in isolation as they determined its temperament, checking to see that it wasn’t too aggressive to be adoptable.

Granted, we had not tried to handle it directly, so my observations could only be seen as marginally pertinent, but we’d followed it for 20 minutes and I’d sat with it after that, so I felt I had to say something on its behalf. I told her, “For what’s it’s worth, I sat within two feet of it for 15 minutes or more when we rescued it and it never growled, snapped or showed any signs of aggression.”

I left, saying still more prayers for this dog’s highest good to be achieved. I know I have no say in what that highest good might look like. Of course, I blubbered over it again, telling my own dogs who’d ridden with me that they’d better count their blessings and be grateful they have such a good home with us when this doggy had no one to love it and no home in which to feel safe. They just looked at me then proceeded to snot-up the car windows when a squirrel passed by. Ungrateful wretches! 🙂

It’d been several weeks and I just had to know what happened to this dog. I emailed the woman at Animal Control again, even offering to post a picture of the dog and help the rescue search for a home for it.

Her succinct message told me he had indeed been approved for adoption and taken in by the rescue organization (which apparently must remain nameless for some reason)!! Yippee skip!!!!

I love happy endings, especially when it involves animal welfare. I confess I’m still crying over this dog with the nine lives of a cat, though this time they’re tears of joy!

Feeling responsible for the life you save is quite real. I was obviously very emotionally invested in finding out I’d done the right thing by this neglected dog. Now I can’t follow up and track his future adoption, but I thank this pooch for providing me with the chance to dig deep into my stash of compassion to help this one animal, despite there being millions of others in need of help and homes.

It’s like the story of the man who was walking along the beach, seeing thousands of starfish left on the sand after the tide went out, where they’d be sure to die. He noticed another man throwing some of the starfish back into the sea one at a time and said, “You know you’re wasting your time, fella. There are just too many of them out here for what you’re doing to make a difference.”

The other man answered as he tossed another starfish into the safety of the surf, “Maybe you’re right, but I know it made a difference to that one.”

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