… a true-to-life rescue story…
On a recent Sunday, we were the humans of a second dog for about 45 minutes. Because he was a stray who, like our lab-mix Edward, sorta found us, I named our new dog “Too.”
California’s State Route 175 heads east from US 101 at Hopland. It alternately winds through foothills and races across fertile valleys of vineyard and ranchland. Were it not for a 17-mile stretch of crumbling, twisty pavement over the Mayacamas, it might be considered a shortcut to somewhere. Just shy of those mountains, the Sanal Valley is home to the industrial strength Ray’s Station Winery. 175 shoots a straight line across this valley’s floor and travelers pick up the pace from around 30 miles per hour to above 65.
That Sunday morning, we were powering up along the stretch when our eyes were distracted by a tiny tan and white dot cris-crossing the pavement near the winery. We slowed, as did an on-comer. Drawing near, we found the wandering dot was a tiny dog – perhaps a chihuahua-terrier mix of some sort – darting here and there, into and out of the traffic lanes, likely confused but surely in danger.
“Oh, we need to stop!” Candi said.
“No, we need to keep going,” I replied, knowing we had somewhere to be at some specific time.
“It’ll get run over!”
“I can’t live with that.”
Candi pulled into a wide spot and idled the Subaru under a spreading oak.
Reluctantly – because I know how these things have ended up in the past (apologies to Edward) – I hopped out and while crossing the highway, palmsed down approaching vehicles to encourage them to slow.
I positioned myself between the little dog and the pavement. He warily scurried about on the dirt shoulder. At times, I could approach and lightly scratch his head but was viciously snapped at if I attempted to scoop him up or slip my finger under his tiny red collar. No tags dangled from that collar but the collar told me he belonged to someone. With each of my futile attempts at capture, he would gyrate away. A couple of sport bikes whistled by, then an F-150. I knew couldn’t let the dog make it back to the road.
|Not the real dog, but he looked a lot like this one...|
“Grab Edward’s leash!” I hollered across the highway. Edward, by now, knew something was up. He was peering out the side window of the Sube witnessing in horror, I’m sure, that his humans were about to violate the first commandment: that being thou shalt have no other dogs before me. (Apologies to Moses.)
Candi snapped the leash around the red collar – couldn’t seem to match the clip to the collar’s D-ring – but the little guy apparently didn’t cotton to such constriction. He rolled over on his back and kicked and snapped at us from the dust. We retrieved a towel from the car and tried to wrap him up, but he didn’t particularly want to be wrapped up. Finally, we fashioned a bit of a noose by looping the leash through the leash’s loop on its people end and slipped the thing over the little guy’s head. Tightening it no further than simply secure, the miniscule critter suddenly relaxed. Five minutes of soft murmurs and gentle rubs on the head and then belly, and the little guy was ours.
With a cell tower in sight, I placed a call to Mendocino County Animal Control. Closed on Sunday. This seemed as outrageous as a dump being closed on Thanksgiving. (Apologies to Arlo Guthrie.) But my call was patched through to sheriff’s dispatch. Explaining the circumstance, the dispatcher, once learning that the locale was a state highway, forwarded my call to the CHP. Upon finding that we’d already secured the animal and it was no longer a potential hazard, the CHP rerouted my call to Animal Control. Nowhere was where we were going and there was somewhere we were supposed to be.
Apparently, the dog was now ours. Placing hands on each side of his heaving ribcage, Candi carried him across the road at arm’s length and placed him in the footwell of the Sube’s passenger seat. He’d calmed appreciably by this time. Perhaps it was trust. Perhaps he knew he was no longer in danger. Maybe he thought he was going home. Our home.
Candi was pleased. The puppy was pleased. Grudgingly, I was pleased. Edward, however, was not. What other commandments do my humans choose to so willingly ignore?
Now what? We couldn’t take him with us, and we couldn’t leave him there.
The little guy must have been a local. The red collar told us so. That, and he was too cute and too compliant to be a pup someone would abandon by the side of a state highway. Well, most someones. The little guy was a charmer. In the footwell he was quiet and no longer feeling the need to nip or cower. At one point I could swear a heard the slightest chihuahua-sized sigh of contentment as he settled against Candi’s feet.
Across the road from the Ray’s Station Winery lay a farm or cattle ranch that likely dated back to the nineteenth century. Not having given way to wine grapes, the fencing and distant barns said livestock. They also suggested that whoever lived there might know where this little chi-terrier gentleman belonged. As we wended along the gravel road between the snaking fences, I reached down into and rubbed the little guy’s head. Craning his wanting neck toward my departing fingers, he seemed to say, “Please, sir. I’d like some more.” (Apologies to ‘Oliver’.)
“What if there’s nobody here? What if they don’t know the owner?” Candi asked as we bumped along. “What if…”
“I guess we’ll have a second dog. I already know what to name him.”
The parallel fence line widened as we approached a dusty complex of barns, outbuildings and corrals. As we drove up, two men were heading out in an aging burgundy red Dodge pickup. I suspected they didn’t get a lot of visitors out this way.
Lowering my window, I held up a hand. “We found a little dog wandering about on the highway just now.”
The driver looked at Edward. “That one?”
“No.” Candi lifted the chihuahua and whatever-happened-to-be-on-the-block-that-day mix from the footwell. “Do you know if he belongs to anyone around here? We’re on our way to somewhere and we really can’t or shouldn’t keep him. Called the shelter but they were closed.”
By this time, the rancher who’d been driving had stepped out of his Dodge. Candi held up the rascal. The rancher looked at the dog. I suspect they made eye contact: man-to-dog, dog-to-man eye contact.
The man considered, but only for a moment. “I have two dogs already. I don’t think having a third one would much matter.”
He gently took up the dog, grasping him by his now-not-heaving sides.
|Not the real lap, either, but what does it matter?|
“Look,” I said. “If you can’t find the owner or it somehow doesn’t work out, here’s my card. E-mail me and I’ll come pick him up and take him to the shelter when they’re open.”
Tucking the little guy under one arm, he took my card and nodded. “This will be no problem…”
“But if it is…”
He nodded again as we turned and headed back toward the highway.
Once returned to route 175 Candi asked, “you said you had a name for him already. What was it?”
“Too,” I said, and I explained why. Candi seemed to nod. “Plus," I added, "when we go to the vet, the vet can refer to him as 'Your little dog, Too'.” (Apologies to the Wicked Witch of the West and to Margaret Hamilton who owns that role on film and who uttered that iconic line.)
After thirty-five years of marriage, my loving wife had long since grown more than a bit weary of my wit. Presently, we began to consider the principal differences between dogs and humans:
…Dogs are loyal.
…Dogs are inherently trusting and true.
…Dogs are protective and their love is unconditional.
We agreed on these and quite a few others including: “A dog would never abandon their human by the side of the road.”
Five miles up the hill, I was half-hoping the rancher would not contact me.
Days later, the other half is still hoping he will.
Church of the Open Road Press