Sunday, January 22, 2012

An update, gratitude and a request

Neighbor Rob called last night. He’d run into Pavel, our Baldy neighbor who took the black dog home. Rob thanked him again for doing so. Pavel’s response was “that dog loves us.” Of course she does. Pavel and his boys dote on her, and she has made herself comfortable with them. Happy, happy ending.

Yesterday I attended an authors’ “Meet and Greet” at the Sun City Library. I took four copies of my book, Tainted Legacy with me—because that’s all I had, since my stupid publisher failed to ship my order (placed November 26)—and sold all four by noon. Of course, The Grandson gets the credit for that; he is great about talking up the book. Just between us, I think older women like to talk to him because he’s handsome and personable. Before you know it, they’re pulling money out of their wallets and handing it to him. He is my best promoter, my banker and my writer-roadie. Love that kid. While Ben was selling books, I was chatting it up with other folks, mostly other authors. Martin Lastrapes was also there, promoting his book, and he seemed to draw more interest than anyone else. Maybe that’s just my perception; Martin is a former student of mine (college, not high school). I’ve loved watching him progress as a writer, and I know that he will eventually out-shine me (if he hasn’t already), which pleases me no end. The kid could write before I ever met him. I just tried to encourage him to pursue it as a career.

Life is short, dear readers, and I am thankful every day for the great things in my life. I live in a beautiful place. Every day I go to work and teach kids who are smart, funny and charming, making my days fly by. My kids and grandkids are all healthy and well right now. And there is so much more….

All of that is to say this: Sometimes we get so busy having a good time, we forget to think of those who are in need. Last week, when I was looking for a safe place for the black dog, I contacted HOPE (Helping Out Pets Everyday), a rescue group in Upland. They’re a great group, staffed by volunteers who work hard for free and truly care about the animals they shelter. Margaret Coffman sent me back an email which opened my eyes to how much this group is currently struggling. We all know that with the downturn in economics, people haven’t been donating as much to charities. HOPE has experienced a lack of funds in recent days. In addition, families hit hard by the recession, unable to pay their bills, have had to give up their pets, over-burdening every shelter and rescue group in the country. HOPE is no exception.

About now you’re thinking about doing your taxes for 2011, wishing you’d made more charitable donations so you’d have more deductions. If part of your New Year’s resolution was to give more abundantly to those in need, please consider a donation to HOPE rescue. They are a small group but they’re giving of themselves in a huge way, providing food, shelter and stable foster homes for dogs and cats until they can be adopted. Making a cash donation is a click away using Paypal from the HOPE website, or you can send a check to: P.O. Box 2005, Upland, CA 91785. You can also find HOPE on Facebook—and when you do, you’ll see the photos of the seven puppies they’re currently fostering. Too cute!!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Black Dog, Part 2

Last Sunday, one week ago, was when I first touched the black dog. That night, she slept on some old bath mats I tossed out on the ground by the back door. On Sunday night, I had borrowed some dog food from Jimmy, a neighbor, and Monday morning, when I found her curled in a ball like a puppy, sleeping, I went outside to feed her. She whimpered and licked my hand—then saw the food bowl and immediately sat, waiting. Someone had taught her to wait for her food. As soon as I put the bowl down, she frantically consumed every piece while I went back inside to get ready for work.

I thought about her all the way down the mountain. She’s a beautiful dog. How anyone could just leave her, I could not fathom.

I came almost straight home for work, stopping only to pick up a bag of dog food. No dog. I tried tapping the food bowl on the stones of the back deck. Nothing. Did something happen to her? Did someone on the trail decide she was a nice dog, nice enough to take home? I hated not knowing.

Just in case, I left a bowl of food out on the deck for her.

In the morning, there she was, curled in a ball on her make-shift bed. When I walked outside, she jumped around and whined as if I’d gone on a long vacation and just arrived home. I fed her again, left for work again. This time when I came home, there she was, wandering in the woods just above the cabin. She loped down to me when I called her. I gave her time to eat some food, then came back outside with an old nylon dog collar I had… a small vestige of hope that someday another dog would lie on the floor by my bed at night.

I told her to sit. She sat immediately, looking at me expectantly. I reached around her neck and snapped on the collar. She still sat.

“Let’s go for a walk,” I told her. Without leashing her, I simply headed up the road toward the waterfall. She raced ahead of me. But like any good dog, she stopped thirty yards above me and looked back. I knew what she was thinking: “Why in heaven’s name are you so slow?” I stopped and called her, just to see if she would return to my whistle. She did. And on we went.

We walked all the way to the falls in that pattern, me stopping every hundred yards or so to call her back to me, then rewarding her with praise and pats when she returned. She was nervous at the waterfall with other people around; she whimpered and stayed close, the fear rising in her again. So we turned around and headed back. She knew the way, but, like a good dog, still stopped to look back for me every so often.

On Wednesday evening I posted an ad on craigslist, explaining her situation and offering her for adoption to someone with a yard who would take her into the house and treat her like family. The next morning, there were five emails in response, two from dog lovers outraged at her abandonment, three from people who said, “I’ll take her!” All three flaked out within twenty-four hours.

By Friday afternoon, I was stressed out and so anxious I was having nightmares about her at night. I couldn’t bring her in; she seemed to want to chase anything small, and my little Sugar Plum was having her own anxiety attacks, hiding behind and atop furniture, growling every time she saw the dog outside. Snow was predicted in less than 36 hours. What would I do if she were outside in a snowstorm? Already the temperature had dropped so much at night, I’d pulled the comforter from the extra bed and dragged it outside for her to curl into.

As I was standing on the deck with her, stroking her soft puppy ears and wondering what to do, Jimmy came up. He told me that Pavel, a man of local fame in Mt Baldy for being big, colorful and an ardent hiker, had recently lost a dog that had died at 17 after a good long life. That dog was a lab mix… and Pavel and his three sons had been looking for a new dog.

I wish I’d thought to take a photo yesterday when Pavel’s boys were on the back deck, getting to know the black dog. They were patient and empathetic. And they immediately loved her. Who wouldn’t? The best photo opportunity would have been when they left—the dog in the back seat of Pavel’s car, her ears up, the tip of her pink tongue showing, flanked by a young boy on either side, their arms around her in an embrace of affection and hope.

To those of you whose hearts were breaking along with mine: She’s safe now. And trust me, she’ll never want for affection or attention. It cost me fifty bucks for a big bag of kibble, a leash, some chew toys and a food bowl. That moment, watching her drive away with her new family… absolutely priceless.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Black Dog, Part I

Standing on the retaining wall behind my cabin, she looks like a black wolf. A skinny black wolf. Her coat is short and dry and it shows the shadows of her ribs, the haunches that are defined by starvation. Despite her condition, her brown eyes are clear. Her ears are always pricked, listening… trying to understand.

She appeared one afternoon some weeks ago, before Christmas, slinking between the cabins, sniffing the air, looking for food. All of us—Jimmy, Tammy, Eric, Brenda, Rob and myself—tried to ignore her. Jimmy has Lucky, a husky that someone brought to the mountain and left behind. Rob has TJ, the world’s sweetest and reddest golden retriever. Eric and Brenda have a small dog and a kitten. I have Sug, of course… and no place for a dog. We all hoped she belonged to someone on the mountain, some new cabin owner who was too ignorant to keep his dog at home.

But no. Weeks have gone by. She’s learned to make the rounds of the cabins, looking for food. I thought it was the little night hawk snatching up the dead mice I dumped out on the wall. I’m sure now it was the black dog. And though I haven’t seen her there, I’m sure she heads down to the campground every day (or more likely at night), scooping up the detritus of irresponsible visitors.

She’s lucky, really. Usually by this time of year we have a foot or two of snow on the ground. But it’s only a matter of time.

Yesterday, watching her trot around on my back deck, her tail tucked between her legs, I’d had enough. I put a bowl of dry cat food out for her. She ran to it, inhaled it and licked the ground around the bowl. I sat outside and talked to her for awhile, at a distance, of course, so she wouldn’t feel threatened.

This morning when she came round, I sat on the back step with another bowl of cat food, a handful of it in my hand. She stood for a long time watching me, then made a decision. She trotted forward to my outstretched hand and gobbled up the food I offered. I quickly gave her another handful, and she ate it greedily. Then I set the bowl down, and while she ate, I petted her head and neck. When I brought out a second bowl of food, I told her to sit and she did. I gave her the food, and when she finished, I removed the filthy leather collar that was so tight it made her cough when she drank water. She looked at me, wagged her tail, licked my hand, and held out her paw. We shook.

“Nice to meet you, girl,” I told her.

There is a mythology that a dog or cat will ‘survive on its own’ if left in the forest. It’s a belief perpetuated by ignorant people. These are the same people—and I use that term loosely—who are too ashamed or embarrassed or proud to take an animal they can no longer care for to a shelter or rescue group. So they bring it to the mountain, dump it out and drive away, leaving it behind like some discarded piece of trash. These are very lucky people… because I haven’t been around to see them do it. God and all her angels help them if I do.