Saturday, July 16, 2011

Oscar. A tale of karma, unfulfilled.

I climbed into the car Saturday morning to head to the writers group critiquing session. As I topped the driveway I made a decision that this day would be greatly improved if I stopped and picked up some coffee.  I could go out of my way a bit for the quick-gas place and their ‘Dark Roast’ blend, but Hardees made some almost as good. Hillsboro doesn’t have a Starbucks, that’s how small and rural Hillsboro is.
There was a wait at the counter as an old gentleman in overalls separated, dug at and carefully counted out lint-covered change. I couldn’t justify impatience, I had plenty of time. “Four dollars and eighty six cents.” the teenager behind the counter repeated for the third, fourth and fifth times. He was finally satisfied and shoved the coins toward her. While the girl counted the change, twice, the old man dug through his ancient leather billfold. “It was eighty six cents but there’s only eighty three here.” She had to repeat twice as he stared blankly at her.  He finally comprehended; I shifted my stance from one hip to the other. He dug out more coins and finally completed that bit of the transaction. He then offered the girl a twenty dollar bill to finish it, the girl sighed but said nothing. I just grinned at her.  She handed him his sixteen dollars in change, had it been me I would have given it to him in quarters and dimes, but she showed more grace and professionalism, a ten, a five and a one.
I made my order and stepped over to the coffee counter. The old gentleman blocked the entire area in indecision for several minutes before figuring it all out.
I noticed a couple of groups at tables pointing out the big window, one of them said something about a dog, more people looked, some shaking their heads.
As I capped my steaming joe, I headed toward the door and spotted the pup.
A long, low slung Dachshund dutifully marched down the grassy median between the eatery and the road, heading toward the busy intersection. I stepped out, looked around and saw no one in pursuit or calling out.
The dog was wearing a collar, I could make out tags dangling almost to the ground. The rust colored wiener dog continued to trot confidently toward the highway. I could tell that he was not road-trained, the heavy passing traffic didn’t seem to be of any interest to him whatsoever. He simply was not aware of the danger. This was someone’s baby boy, an indoor pup.
I couldn’t just drive away. I couldn’t just hope or pray for the best. I was at this place and time this dog’s only hope for life, even if he didn’t know it.
Of course I’ve chased loose dogs before, many times. The main bit of knowledge you pick up after doing this dozens and dozens of times is that to 'chase' is to fail. You have to be more interesting and appealing to the dog than whatever is currently motivating it. I had no chunks of meat or bread on me, so I was left with only myself. 
First I needed a leash. Though the dog was small, a threatened or frightened dog is not something you want to hold in your hands or arms for very long. It occurred to me that I could fashion a leash out of the canvas strap from my book bag. I unclipped it and made a slip-loop at one end. A loop is easier to get a round a dog’s neck than trying to actually clip onto the dog’s collar.  I’ve managed to rein in many skittish dogs with a slip-loop that would have chewed through my hands had I tried to grab the collar and clip on a leash.
I approached the little dog and at first he paid me no notice. As I got closer I could sense the flee or fight response building in him, his eyes shifting rapidly from me to the road, me, the road, me, the growling diesel truck, back to me.
About eight feet away I dropped to my knees and slapped the front of my thighs with my hands, dropping my head as well, as if greeting a Japanese host.  If you watch dogs interact much you will recognize the movement. When wanting to play, a dog will drop to it’s front elbows, slapping its paws on the floor. This is universal, an instinctual dog-play indicator, a movement that indicates no harm intended, let’s just wrestle for fun.
The dog picked up on it and stopped looking toward the intersection.  Interested, curious but unsure; stalemate.  I was reluctant to approach since if he suddenly became frightened his only escape would be into the road, I would rather him just stay where he was, for as long as needed, than to be the reason for him to dash toward certain death.
I could see the collar and tags more clearly from this distance. The collar was bright and clean, there were two tags dangling, one still shiny. This was certainly someone’s beloved pooch. Clean, healthy coat, clean teeth, new tags.
A small dog like a Dachshund is usually, almost always an indoor dog. In this downtown location it meant a dog that probably got walked frequently.
Walks are the acme of a day for house dogs. Even the luckier dogs that have fenced yards to roam still love to be leashed up and led around the block. Fascinating and exciting new sights and smells, chances to read and leave pee-mail on the trees and mailbox posts.  It occurred to me how to get this dog to come to me.
I showed him the strap. Still on my knees (to present less of a threat) I held it out and just let it dangle in front of me. It worked instantly. He wanted to go out for a walk. Try to think like a dog, not a human. Yes he’s already outside, yes he can roam freely. But his learned reaction to the visual stimulus of ‘leash’ is ‘go for a walk.’ What he was seeing usually led to something he really, really liked. For that moment I might as well have been offering him a slab of peanut butter covered raw meat with bone-marrow sprinkles.
He came right to me, I dropped the lasso around his neck and gently cinched it. He didn’t resist at all. I stood up, and led him away from the road, back toward the grassy area behind the drive-through. He was as happy as a clam and took to the makeshift leash like he had just inherited a fortune.
Once we bonded for a few minutes I sat at the curb and drew him close. I checked for injuries, there were none apparent. I thought for a moment about the people inside the burger joint. I was sure that thy had watched this as it happened and were probably ready to step out and offer cheers and applause.
Well, that didn’t happen.
I rubbed his soft, furry head and he characteristically rolled over and offered me his ample belly. I accepted this great gift and we were soon the best of friends.
 The tags were both vet-issued vaccination tags, no personal ID with the dog’s homes address. I fished out my phone and dialed the number on the shiniest tag.
A lady answered, I told her the situation. She asked for the tag number and I read it off to her.
“Oh, that’s Oscar, he’s a sweetie.” She cooed.
“Yes ma’am he seems to be just that.”
“Well, he belongs to Frank Roland, his phone number is. . .”
I stopped her. “Wait , I don’t have a pen on me”
I hoped she would offer to call Frank herself, she didn’t.
“Well I do have his address.” She offered instead.
I looked around at the street signs, assuming the short legged little beast probably hadn’t ventured far.
“Great, read it off to me and I’ll try to find it.”
“Okay,” she said “P.O. box three-four- five. . . “
“Hold on ma’am, I wasn’t planning to mail the pooch home, is there a street address?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
“Well, let me go to my car so I can write down the phone number.”
“The number is six-three-six. . ."  I stopped her again.
“Sorry, but please wait till I get to the car if you can ma’am, it’ll be just a moment.”  
I got to the car, opened the door and Oscar happily jumped into the passenger seat and readied himself for the ride, like he’d probably done hundreds of times.
I found a pen and a scrap of paper. I told the lady to go ahead, she read off the number. I thanked her and disconnected then dialed Oscar’s home.
“Is this Frank?” I asked the heavy male voice that hello’d me.
“Yeah, I’m Frank.”
“Sir, I have something of yours, I'm told that his name is Oscar.”
“Oscar? Oh no, he got out? Dad-burn it, I saw him here just a few minutes ago.”
“He’s fine sir, we found him wandering around the Hardee's parking lot.”
“Well that’s great, don’t know how he got out though. I’ll send my boy right down there. What kind of car you in?”
I looked around at the ten or so vehicles in the lot, most of them small silver cars.
“I’ll be the man walking your dog.” I answered instead.
“Oh yeah, that’ll work too.”
“Good day to you too sir.”
“Well I’m sure sorry for your trouble.” He offered.
“No trouble at all sir.”
Oscar and I walked in the grass again, I was still half-waiting for the accolades, but nothing like that ever happened.
“There you are Oscar!” I looked up and saw a mid-forty-ish, lanky, near toothless man approach with a big, genuine smile.
I unclipped my book bag strap and the man picked up the now-ecstatic pup.
“I sure do thank you sir!” the man said, his face being slobbered up by the carefree dog.
“No problem at all, happy to help.”
Still no applause, no instant media coverage. Well, good thing that doing the right thing is its own reward.
I went on to my meeting, feeling rather good about myself. Unlike my lovely wife, I’m no dog expert, but just being around her has taught me lots of things about dogs, the way they think, the things they want and fear. I knew that I was perfectly prepared for just such a situation without even being consciously aware of it.
The meeting let out at noon. The heat advisory warnings had been accurate, the pavement outside the library had turned into a flat-top griddle. I approached my car and thought something didn’t look quite right. Closer, unable to figure it out exactly, then it dawned on me. The rear view mirror. It was dangling by a wire, the glue holding it to the windshield had melted. I opened the car door, the blast of intense heat nearly knocking me over. The glue spot on the windshield was still tacky.
Not a major problem, not cancer or a death in the family or losing a job, but still, yet another unexpected minor chore had been tossed into my lap.
Where’s the karma? I’d gone out of my way and rescued a beloved pet and asked for absolutely nothing in return.  Cosmic justice owed me one, just a little something, but no, no applause no cheers from a grateful public, nothing. And I was okay with that, I really was, but what happens next? Did I find a five-spot on the sidewalk? Do I get a call from a long-lost friend?
No, my mirror melts. 
Some fine balance this karma thing hands back, what a rip-off.
But yes, if I had to do it over again, I would without even giving it a second thought. I don't need a reward, I don't need a standing ovation. Just knowing that I can pitch in and make someone's life a little less tragic once in a while is all I really need to feel worthy. I'll never cure  cancer or solve global warming, but hey, I saved a family's dog today.