Wednesday, December 03, 2008
We have a new dog. Not that we planned on it.
Like many family additions, this one came as a surprise. He was a "rescue" dog, and as it turned out, he needed to be rescued twice.
We saw him wandering the neighborhood one Sunday afternoon a few months ago: a black lab mix, full-sized, very curious and energetic. He paid a brief visit to our front yard that evening while my husband and I were sitting outside having coffee. He looked at us from underneath one lopped-over ear, let us pet him without showing any sign of aggression, then stretched out on the grass at our feet, his back legs behind him in a frog-like position. I guessed him to be about a year old.
We didn't let him in that night. We already had a dog. But I looked for him the next morning, ready to put some food out. I didn't see him – but my husband did when he drove our son to middle school. The dog was in the school parking lot, dodging cars and looking very panicky. So, my husband wrestled him into the car (no easy task) and brought him home.
We kept him in the back yard and waited for Animal Control to pick him up. When the officer arrived, the dog accepted the lead with no problem and went off with another stranger, apparently as happy to be loaded into a city truck as he had been to explore our grassy back yard.
That's when it really started. I kept seeing the dog's face, that lopped-over ear, the trusting way he'd laid at our feet and just as cheerfully let himself be hoisted into a strange truck to take him God knows where.
Yep. We called back and asked Animal Control if they'd mind returning the dog. He might even, we cajoled ourselves, make a nice companion for our dog Taz in her old age. Animal Control said they would return him, but only if we promised to try to find the owner.
When the dog came back and we let him inside, we quickly began to suspect why his owner might not want to be found. He hadn't been neutered, and although Taz was spayed years ago, that made no-never-mind to our newcomer. He kept trying to put the moves on her, even though all she did was freeze and growl. He was pretty amorous with human legs, too. After one day of this, my husband turned to me and said, in a wild-eyed burst of homophobia, "We have to get this dog fixed before we know if this is ever going to work."
We took the dog in to be neutered. Then, since we'd invested in him to the point of surgery, we took a family vote and chose a name: Bela, as in Bela Lugosi. (I never said our family was normal.)
Being neutered didn't cure Bela's libido right away. He had other annoying habits, too. He loved to chew things and could lay waste to a ninety-nine-cent squeaky ball from Target in less than half an hour. He had a voracious appetite for socks, even when they were still on the wearer's feet. And no small object within reach was safe. But annoying as he was, Bela had a good heart and clearly wanted to be loved. He'd close his eyes in bliss when we pet him, groaning the kind of doggy sigh that explains why people have continued to let hairy mammals live in their homes, century after century.
We did try to find his owner. We put up flyers around our neighborhood, my son's school and at the grocery store. We ran a "Found" ad in the Daily Press. We heard nothing, adding weight to our suspicion that Bela had been abandoned or dumped.
That's what bothers me. Obviously, he'd been someone's pet. He was affectionate, not afraid of people, and appeared to recognize the command "sit" (though he obeyed it very selectively). Why would anyone turn their once-beloved, if rather annoying, pet loose? Did they really believe he'd be happy fending for himself, dodging traffic and living off jack rabbits?
We soon discovered another risk to unvaccinated dogs when they're turned loose to run on their own: Parvo virus.
A few days after he'd been fixed, Bela started throwing up. His voracious appetite disappeared. We took him back to the vet, where he was diagnosed with this very expensive disease, which could cost upwards of $1600 to treat. Even then, he might not make it. This, for a dog we hadn't even laid eyes on a little over a week ago.
A young dog, whose life was now in our hands.
Oh, and did I mention I was let go from my job the day after we took Bela into our house?
And that we had two children with big sad eyes watching us as we debated Bela's fate?
We explained our position to the people behind the counter at the vet's office. First, they recommended their credit plan. Then, their savvy bookkeeper told us about a few organizations that sometimes contribute to the care of sick animals ... especially if they're strays.
We might have bitten the credit bullet – or we might not. But those organizations, and my husband's diligent time on the phone, turned out to be Bela's literal lifeline. Five days later, he was back home, ignorantly blissful of the bullet he'd dodged. And just as romantically interested in Taz as ever.
Two months later, I'm relieved to say Bela's hormones have quieted down, though socks and precious mementos are still at a high risk. That lopped-over ear – one of the things that tempted us to keep him – stands straight up now. But he still sticks his legs out beside him when he lies down, and has a way of twisting his body in all directions, so he looks like the victim of a car wreck.
There's an old adage that if you save someone's life, you're responsible for him forever. I always thought that was meant as an ethical bond. Now, I suspect it's an emotional one. When I get frustrated with Bela, I remember that someone else gave up on him once. I don't want it to happen again.