Wednesday, January 30, 2008

TELLULAH- A dog saved by a hand from heaven

I was starting to panic. Flipping on the flashers, I got out of the van. Not satisfied with honking at her, traffic began to honk at me. One couple smiled sweetly as they passed through the danger zone. Perhaps they thought this was funny. I was not amused

I had spent the last few minutes trying to herd this strangely behaving German Shepherd out of the center of the highway. She wouldn’t move off the road, trotting toward me instead, oblivious to the dangers. She was in pretty bad shape—ribs protruding, bony prominences on her hips jutting up out of her pelvic girdle. I could have spanned her hind quarters with my hands, the thumbs touching, she was so thin.

It looked to me as if she had been on the run a long time. She must be lost and she couldn't have found much to eat. And she had a collar. I didn't recognize the area code on the engraved phone number and surmised by the look of her she was a long way from home.

"Ok girl; we'll find your home but first let's get you something to eat. Come on..."

I never finished my sentence. She dove into the van; I wanted to rearrange her but she wouldn't budge. For a dog who was almost skeletal she was suddenly very strong. She planted herself and wouldn't move as if her life depended on it.

A mile down the road the car began to smell. Not just like dirty dog, but like something had died. The smell of rotting flesh is unmistakable and my car was beginning to smell exactly like decaying flesh. This animal's body was so emaciated that it was digesting itself; she was dying. Afraid to roll down the windows because my furry passenger might jump out, I rolled them down to a safe space from the top.  But the smell just got worse. I rolled them all the way down. The shepherd didn't move; she made no attempt to even move toward the windows.

On the way home, I dashed into the market grabbing dry and canned dog food and sprinted back to the car. The smell had permeated the whole inside of the vehicle. I sped up to get home and get us both out of the car.

I put the dog in the 8 X 8 foot hurricane fence enclosure and mixed the dog food and brought a bowl of water. I fed her slowly taking the bowl away at intervals to prevent vomiting or bloating and she allowed me to do that without growling, lunging or protest. So she was a gentle dog. That moment she looked up licked my hand.

I got the hose, some shampoo and gave her a bath. Since it was late by then, I waited until the next day to make the phone call.

I dialed the number. A woman answered the phone and I asked for "Dick," the name on the collar.

"I'm sorry, Dick isn't here. Can I help you?"

"Is this Dick's wife?"

"No; it's his daughter."

"Could you give Dick a message for me? Could you ask him to call me back?"

"I'm afraid I am not going to be able to do that. And Dick is not going to be able to call you back either."

"What? I have to get a message to him! I have something that belongs to him. I need to speak with him! It's urgent!"

"I'm afraid that's going to be impossible too. Dick passed away a few weeks ago."

I sat down. "Oh I'm so sorry. Oh, this must be really difficult for you. I have something to tell you. Did Dick have a dog?"

"He had all kinds of dogs, why?”

“Well, you’re probably not going to believe this, but… ” I began, and I told her the story.
"Are you a dog person?" she asked.
"Yes, I suppose you could say that; they call me the Doggi Lama,” I replied. I heard a belly laugh come from the other end of the line.
“Well, Dick was an animal lover too,” the woman said, “he used to find lost dogs, take them in, rehabilitate them and find homes for them. Maybe this was one of his rescue dogs. What kind of dog is it? The collar’s orange plastic, right? Those are the ones he used. Is the dog’s name on the tag? Male or female? Friendly?”

I answered all her questions and asked a few of my own. We concluded that this was pretty strange and that we didn’t quite know what to make of it. Tobi introduced herself and told me a little about their family. She and her husband were visiting from the East Coast and were planning to stay for awhile. She wanted to relay our conversation to her husband, Dick’s son. “It’s really odd how this happened. It’s actually bizarre.”
“Tobi, It gets even stranger,” I said gingerly, “Today I stayed longer at work than usual. Had I left on time, I would have missed this animal completely. And how do you account for the fact that Dick used to save dogs and this dog has a collar with his name? And something else… the Rabies and kennel tags are from 1988 and 1990. It’s 2007; you do the math—that would make this dog 20 years old. That’s not possible. I fully expected to tell this dog’s owner that I found his dog and find him happy to have her back. But it’s obvious that this dog has a different story. If she is not a runaway or lost, then somebody has mistreated her in which case, she is not going back anywhere near where I picked her up. I don’t feel I can keep her; my Black Lab Max died and I’m still not over it. I’m not ready; and especially not to have an elderly dog that I would lose soon.” We agreed to talk later and hung up.
Tobi’s husband called that evening to ask how the Shepherd was doing. I reported that she had just eaten her second big bowl of food and was back in the kennel, that her hair was coming out in clumps after a bath and nutritionally she was in real trouble. She loved the brushing but it was nowhere near completion and I already had enough hair to make a whole extra dog. Brian didn’t think the family would want her, and he asked what I would like to do. If I didn’t want her, he suggested either my local shelter or his. The shelter in his city was a no kill shelter and if I wanted, he offered to come and get her. “If she goes to the shelter here,” I said, “she will be euthanized. She’s too weak, old and malnourished to be adoptable. She’s been so mistreated I couldn’t bear her being euthanized; I vote for your shelter.” He agreed. They would come the following day.
I had to work so I left her in the kennel and in the care of my neighbor while Dick’s family came to collect her. As I backed the van out of the driveway she stood still as a statue staring directly at me until I drove away. My heart shattered. After work my neighbor filled me in. “It’s not his dog,” he said of her deceased guardian, “his family said it is his collar all right, but that’s not his dog. They are really nice people,” he said, "I gave them the envelope with the shelter donation."
Tobi called later to say “I have named her. I called her Tellulah all the way home. What a sweet animal. She’s here and I am going to keep her for a couple of days.”
“So you named her,” I laughed, “on the way home? That’s dangerous! You realize of course, that since you have named her this is now your dog.” Tobi laughed and basically said how could you not bond with such a sweetheart?
A week later I learned that Tobi had tried to adopt her but Tellulah was dog aggressive and they couldn’t keep her because of their other two dogs. Tellulah would have to live at the shelter. At least she would live out her last days in comfort and with people who loved animals. And Tobi could visit her.
I wasn’t sure what to make of any of it. Curious, I went back to the place where I picked up Tellulah on the road and what I found left me trembling all the way home. About twenty years ago there was a notorious local animal abuse case. The case is public record. Ervin Stebane was what they call a Class B dealer who sold animals for feed and dogs for human consumption to people transplanted from other cultures. He captured animals and traded in their misery. Arrested on animal cruelty charges, his license was revoked and all his animals confiscated by the Department of Agriculture. The story made headlines for weeks and was since chronicled in a book.
The presiding judge was sickened by Stebane’s treatment of animals— how he store-housed but never fed them because he wouldn’t spend money on doomed animals. As part of his sentence, the judge forbade Stebane to ever deal in animal trading or own animals again. The animals looked skeletal when his farm was shut down, their pictures all over the papers. When I went back to find the place where I picked up Tellulah, I discovered it was right in front of the Stebane homestead. I came home and told my neighbor who launched a secret reconnaissance mission to hear dogs barking in the night. That mission was for evidence for the Department of Agriculture.
So how is it that Tellulah showed up on the road coincidentally at the very moment I, the “Doggi Lama” was passing through? How is it she had a piece of broken twine around her neck and was wearing a collar bearing a deceased lifelong dog rescuer’s name? How is it she never hesitated to approach or come with me? How is it she happened to be in front of a farm notorious for animal cruelty? How is it my neighbor just happens to be former Special Forces Army?
His methods may be a bit more unconventional now and he recruited some unlikely assistants, but I think Dick is still in the business of rescuing dogs.

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A few Thoughts...

When I think about it, my own life is no less rich and the living no less inspiring than my pioneering ancestors and I come from a long line of Indians and outlaws so don't ever turn your back on me!

Life is, after all, a slice of human consciousness lived from its place in human evolution. "From here to eternity" as it were-- from earth to the stars, from personal space to cyberspace, from a small local footprint to the world reduced to the size of a notebook and sitting on your lap!

As a child I lived with the perpetual and immenent threat of annihilation. That's child abuse! It wasn't a kid-friendly world and I couldn't understand why the grown-ups who were in charge weren't doing something?

So at age seven with my face in the window eyes turned up into the night sky and staring at the stars I made a vow: "When I am a grown-up, I will do something."

My writing is that something and I write to "simply change the world." If that sounds like a lack of humility it isn't because I know that one person absolutely can change the world and I've met some who have.

Kay Kennedy put together an anthology that puts the reader in the midst of history to view it from the inside out.

When I was in high school and even college, history classes were stale and boring featuring memorization and regurgitation of dates that coincided with events that had no human face, certainly no magic, and no life!

Anthologies are great fun and stores are rich remembrances. History books chronicle; stories are little narrative slices of living. History comes alive through story. I often think of my grandmother and her story, her life-- the history she lived. In her lifetime she saw humankind evolve from horse and buggy to man on the moon.

I was a sixties kid and for the youth of the sixties, turmoil, disillusionment, and revolution were everyday 'business as usual'. Like a radio perpetually on low volume, fear and death dronned on in the background. The superpowers threatened to extinguish all life on the planet, the Vietnam War was escalating and peers were being escorted home under American Flag blankets. The civil rights and equal rights movements were testing human civility, and faster than one could recover from one shock another real life hero would fall to yet another assassin. Despair was commonplace. Contrast that with a man on the moon... we could conquer space travel but couldn't make nukes or war obsolete! It was a time when youth needed hope because hope was scarce. When it was finally resurrected, it came in the form of idealism and a philosophy of brotherly and universal love. Perfect principles; imperfect execution.

For others who contributed to "Looking Back," the history is different for each because the "times" were different as well as the perspective of the individuals. The stories of human societal evolution are enlightening, heartwarming, poignant and spellbinding. They put a human face on the past.

And there are people now who are putting a face on the future...