Thursday, February 20, 2014

Black Dog to the Rescue

(Reclaimed from Bubblews, where this post originally appeared with a photo posted by Taliesin at That photo seems to have disappeared from both sites, so here's a photo posted by Missyredboots.)

As a young student I lived in a boardinghouse a few blocks away from the school. Some people worried because I had to walk through the park at night, and a few violent crimes had occurred in the park. I was just glad to get out of the dormitory.

I liked the park, too, during the daytime. It was a great place to walk, study, or jam with several musicians who lived in the neighborhood. And, of course, it was a great place for dogs. At the time the neighborhood had no leash laws. Retrievers are the official animal emblem of Maryland--specifically, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever breed--and these largish, friendly, water-loving dogs were always lolloping around the creek, alone, with their humans, or as a pack.

The boardinghouse owned two retriever-mixes who lived in a pen below my window. I never saw anyone taking them out for a walk. When I asked I was told that they had belonged to the owners' children, but now that the owners' children were grown up and working, nobody had time to do more than try to remember to put food and water in the pen. Once the dogs had had leads and collars, but nobody seemed to know what had become of those things. It seemed like an awfully small pen for two big dogs. I bought a lead and collar and tried to take each dog for a walk on Sundays. They were quite an armload to lift over a 4'6" (about 1.4m) fence, especially the bigger dog, especially when she was wet, but they seemed to enjoy their walks (with occasional swims) as much as puppies would have done. (Retrievers have a reputation for acting like puppies forever.)

I didn't try to make them walk at heel; the idea was to have fun. I did shorten their lead when other dogs approached, but the other retrievers in the neighborhood seemed like quite a friendly social club, never growling at the dogs who of course became my pets even though they did not legally belong to me.

Inevitably one night, as I walked home from work, a couple of public school boys drove past and tried to talk to me. This was part of prefeminist U.S. social culture. Girls were supposed to be terrorized because boys who just stopped to say "hi, nice evening isn't it," were supposed to remind us that we could be kidnapped. What I actually felt was annoyed by their idle chatter; I didn't know them and didn't want to make their acquaintance. I was prepared to make anybody who tried to kidnap me regret that thought.

But in any case one of the retriever social club lolloped up and shoved its head under my arm just as if I had any idea to whom it belonged, which I didn't. It was solid black and bigger than either of "my" dogs. Retrievers were actually bred for being gentle and peaceable, able to catch a wounded duck and carry it around in their mouths without messing up its feathers, but people with guilty consciences do not necessarily know this.

"Hey, nice dog!" said one of the boys.

"Cool!" said the other one.

"Screech!" went the car.

I looked at the dog, wondering where it was supposed to have been. It looked back at me. Then it vanished into the night.

Probably I'd seen it before. Probably I saw it again. It never approached me again, though. Dogs can tell from our scent how much stress we're feeling and that dog had just known it had a chance to be helpful to a friend of a friend.

What reminded me of that dog today was stumbling across the Yahoo Voices article by Kattie Lilly that I just plussed on Google +. Black dogs (and cats) tend literally to fade into the shadows at an animal shelter, so they're often the last to be's possible that a dog just like the one who rescued me is languishing in a shelter, now, waiting to be rescued by you. (And even if dognappers volunteer to "rescue" valuable animals for your local shelter, a mixed-breed black animal in a shelter is almost certain to be an abandoned pet who really needs a good home.)