93: On a Mission

93: On a Mission

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

On a Mission

A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.

~Eleanor Roosevelt

Driving to a rural town in Illinois, I had an address, a full tank of gas and fifty dollars in my purse. I was on a rescue mission—one that I had volunteered for—and as I drove I rehearsed my tall tale.

Our rescue group had gotten a call from someone out of town: A Golden Retriever needed to be rescued. Chained up in a back yard day and night without any shade, without a constant supply of water, the dog was being neglected. It was late June. The summer had already started with a roar in the Midwest. Temperatures over 100 degrees were an everyday thing and rain was a distant memory. I knew I would have nightmares if something awful happened and we didn’t try to save this dog.

“Could our group buy him?” I asked. I had already volunteered to drive the distance to get the dog.

“No, paying for a dog is against our bylaws,” I was told. “But if you wanted to pay for the dog yourself, that’d be okay.” Oh. I guessed I’d have to volunteer my car and my wallet for this adventure.

On the two-hour ride, I created the story I was going to tell. Normally we didn’t concoct stories to rescue a dog in need. Most people called and asked us to take their dogs, so this was an unusual situation. Before I went to the address we had been given, I was going to knock on a few doors and tell a woe-filled tale about a beloved Golden I had lost.

I picked a string of houses about half a block from the home I was really interested in. Keeping my arms as close to my sides as possible—I was already perspiring with nervousness—I stepped up on the large wooden porch and knocked on the door. A white-haired lady opened her screen door. In all facets of my life I’m a scrupulously honest person, so in this situation I was worried I wouldn’t be able to lie in a convincing way. When asked questions, I always tell the truth, but now, as a volunteer for our dog rescue group, I’d have to lie a little.

“Hi, I was at the gas station up the street, and somebody saw my Golden Retriever keychain while I was pumping my gas. I got to chatting, telling them about my Trixie, who just died, and they told me that somebody on this street has a Golden. I am so missing my dog, and just wanted to put my arms around a dog like Trixie and pet it. Do any of your neighbors have a Golden Retriever?”

Thankfully this sweet grandmotherly woman trusted me. We spoke for a few minutes, and then she pointed to the address I had already checked out. I thanked her and walked across the street to “the house.”

A woman in her late twenties answered the door. Her preschool-aged son hung onto her skirt. “Hello?”

“Hi, I was passing through and heard you have a Golden. I just lost my Golden Retriever, Trixie, and was wondering if I could just look at your dog before I head back home to St. Louis. I miss my old girl so much and just need a Golden fix.”

She was as unsuspicious as her neighbor.

Immediately, she agreed to show me Harley. And there, chained in the corner of the yard, was a handsome Golden Retriever.

Even though I was a stranger invading his territory, the dog didn’t bark or growl. Like every other Golden I had ever met, Harley was ecstatic over the attention he was getting from a human. I knelt down in the dirt, put my arms around him and gave him a hug. “Oh my, he looks just like my sweet Trixie. He has the same eyes!”

The owner said, “He’s a really good dog. We tried to bring him into the house but he kept chewing up stuff, so now he’s an outside dog and he’s happy.” I heard another couple of kids still in the house, calling for her. “I’ll be right back,” she said, and headed across her large yard.

I looked around. The yard where Harley was chained had been dug up, either from boredom or from him trying to cool off during the horrendously hot days. There was a bowl of dirty water and a huge bucket of food; bugs were crawling around inside it. A spindly sapling and an enormous plastic barrel—on its side, with a doorway cut out—were the only shelter from the sun.

When the woman came back, my tears brimmed over because I knew how hungry this dog was for love and attention. And I figured he was on the verge of getting heatstroke. In just the few minutes I had been there I was already woozy from the heat, so I was certain this four-legged fellow was miserable. My mascara was running down my cheeks because I felt so sad. But that’s not what I told the owner.

“Harley reminds me so much of Trixie, it makes me cry. He’s the same shade of gold that she was, and he has the same long eyelashes. This is going to sound crazy, I know, but I was wondering if you’d agree to sell him. I miss my dog so much.” I rooted around in my purse, got my wallet and pulled out the money I had brought. “Here, I’ve got $50. I know it’s not much, but it’s all I have.”

“I don’t think you want to buy him. He’s got a hernia. We’re gonna make an appointment for him as soon as we can scrape up the money.” She had Harley lie down and roll over, and she showed me the tiny bulge near his belly. From our talk I found out that Harley needed surgery. He also was due for his shots, and the family couldn’t afford heartworm medicine. This young family really couldn’t afford this dog.

An hour and a half later, Harley and I walked across the street. As I loaded him into my car, I whispered, “Harley, you’re going to have a great life.” And from that point on, I never had to tell another untrue tale, and this sweet Golden Retriever never went without comfort and love.

Volunteering to save a dog’s life… My only pay was the thump of a happy dog’s tail, and some kisses from his long, droopy tongue. Was it worth it?

Definitely.

~Sioux Roslawski

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