19: One for the Road

19: One for the Road

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

One for the Road

Fun fact: Ancient Greek and Roman physicians thought dogs’ saliva had healing properties and could even be an antidote to poisoning.

I had just changed into my running clothes and was leaving my office, off for a run even though it was well over 100 degrees. I couldn’t explain it, but I felt the need to run despite the record heat and my colleague’s admonition not to go.

A quarter-mile into my jog, I saw spots. I admitted defeat and turned around. As I approached my car, in what had been an empty parking lot, I saw an animal circling it.

“Is that a dog?” I asked of no one.

It was a dog, an unintimidating one at that. “Hello,” I said. When I reached for the door handle, the dog disappeared underneath the car into the shade. I grabbed my bottle, desperate for water, took a long swig, and then lowered to my knees to look for the dog. When I stood up, I found it sitting in the driver’s seat, panting.

I reached across him, started the car, and turned the air conditioning on high. I poured water from my bottle into the cap and offered it to him in the driver’s seat. He drained it in a few desperate gulps. I refilled it several times before he had his fill.

“Who do you belong to?” I asked. He wore no collar. “Stay here. I’m going to look for your owner.”

He turned his face toward the vents, relishing the cold air, his moustache blowing.

There was no one in sight. I walked in each direction, toward the river’s edge and back. I stood there, looking at the dog staring back at me through the window. He waited patiently as if he’d been in my car dozens of times. I didn’t know what to do. Leaving him in that heat was out of the question. He would die.

“Move over,” I said. The dog moved obediently to the passenger seat. Before I was out of the lot, he had climbed onto my lap. “You stink,” I said. He looked up at me, panting, and then licked my sweaty face. “Ugh! No licking!” He turned his gaze out the window, and I wrapped a protective arm around him for safety. His black fur was warm to the touch and caked with dirt. His unusually long nails dug into my thighs.

“Let’s go figure out what to do with you.”

I was never a dog person, which I often confessed without a trace of shame. “How could you not like dogs?” people asked me. “Easily,” I’d answer. “They smell, they’re loud, and they’re messy, to name a few reasons.” With this attitude, my soon-to-be husband had already resigned himself to the fact that we would never have a dog.

And now one was in my car, on my lap no less! I pulled into my driveway and shrugged as my fiancé saw the dog, his eyes wide at this sudden development.

“Don’t worry,” I said, as I lifted the dog out of the car. “I’m calling animal control.” I set him down in the yard and filled a bowl with cold water. I sat in the shade beside him as he lay on the ground panting heavily. He was lethargic. Upon closer inspection, he appeared quite old, with a Fu Manchu-style moustache, white whiskers and dirty teeth. He didn’t look up when there was a noise, so I assumed he was partially deaf.

We sat together waiting for animal control. The dog didn’t move except to lick my salty face, a foreign sensation that I was already starting to like. I petted him, assuring him that everything would be okay. When animal control arrived, I filled in the representative on how I found the dog. “Also, I think he’s old and possibly deaf,” I added.

She performed some sensory tests, snapping her fingers near his ears and shining a light in his eyes. “He’s not old or deaf,” she concluded. “He has heat stroke.”

Soon after, the dog was loaded into a crate and into the van. I felt a strange mixture of relief and sadness. “What happens now?” I asked.

“His owner has ten days to claim him. After that, he’ll be available for adoption.”

“I’ll look for signs in the area and check the papers and websites. If he has an owner, I want to help find them.”

“Based on his condition and where you found him, my guess is he was abandoned. He’s been a stray for a while now.”

Suddenly, looking at that sweet dog panting in his crate, I realized that this was no chance encounter. I was meant to go running and find him. My heart spoke before my brain could interfere: “If he isn’t claimed, I’ll adopt him.”

Ten days later, I brought Cooper home. He expressed such gratitude to have found his forever home. But it was I who was grateful, for the opportunity to experience such an unexpected bond with an animal.

Learning Cooper’s personality and quirks was entertaining. I had no choice but to acquiesce to the licking. He’s a kisser! Although not always welcome, he usually has good timing. He’s kissed many of my tears away over the years and brought me comfort. Also, he loves the car. A proper mom now, I learned how to secure him in the back seat, but that never stopped him from placing his front paws on the center console and staring attentively out the windshield. He stands guard. No matter how long the drive, he stays on duty the entire time, even if he is exhausted after a day at the beach.

And that is a fortunate thing. I may have saved his life by letting him into my car that hot summer day, but he returned the favor by saving our lives in that same car years later.

We’d spent the day at a picnic an hour north and were headed home late at night. We were both exhausted, struggling to stay awake. “Take a nap, Coop. Mommy’s fine,” I told him. But he wouldn’t nap, nor was I fine.

I fell asleep and veered onto the shoulder. Cooper head-butted me, startling me awake right before we surely would have crashed. I gained control of the vehicle, fully alert from the adrenaline surge, and pulled Cooper’s face against mine. “Thank you, baby,” I said, kissing him. “Good dog. Thank you for saving us.” Terrified, yet relieved, tears fell from my eyes. As always, Cooper promptly licked them away.

“It had to happen this way,” my husband has often said. “She’d have never gone to a shelter and picked a dog.” That hot day, when that angel of a dog appeared from nowhere, truly was a miraculous day for me.

~Jessica A. Walsh

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