A few days ago my partner, who is a crane operator, spotted a scrawny brown Chihuahua in a remote stretch of swampland. There were no houses in the area, just a handful of rickety fishing shacks and rotting piers. The dog was hunkered on the edge of the dirt road, and my partner, who was on her way to a lift, backed up her rig and stopped. She got out of the cab and began to approach the dog, who had flattened its body to the ground. The truck engine was still running as my partner, getting closer, offered soft words of reassurance. Caught between terror and hope, the dog shivered violently but stayed in place. Allowing it to sniff her hand, my partner then scooped the stricken animal into her arms and carried it back to the truck.
Because we have two cats and no dogs, our friends think of us as “cat people.” The truth is, I like dogs as well as cats, and I have the same admiration for hedgehogs, blackbirds and blue whales. The main advantage of cats is their autonomy. While both our cats are fairly affectionate, they do not require a constant stream of attention and approval, and my heart doesn’t break when I look at them—well maybe sometimes, when they were kittens, for instance, and vulnerable to everything, or when I take them to the vet and they try to hide in my arms. Thank god, by the way, for veterinarians and their assistants, for all those who are strong enough and good enough to spend their days in the service of animals. My respect is boundless.
When you look at this dog, even the briefest glance, her tail wags hard and her ears lift; if you speak to her, her body shudders in a paroxysm of joy and she dashes over, head lowered. Each time you lift your arm to pet her she flinches and drops her pelvis to the floor. Her hips splay so easily that I’m not sure if it’s a genetic trait or if chronic dread has reshaped her. When your palm settles on the small dome of her head, her body stills and her eyes glaze with gratitude. Running your hand down her back and sides, you can feel every vertebra and rib.
I had her scanned at a pet shelter and was not surprised to learn that she is not chipped. I also spoke with a clerk at the Solano Animal Shelter who informed me that no one has filed a report on her. I provided a description of the dog and my contact information, then regretted it soon after. I assume she was dumped in that swamp or ran away on her own.
Between the cats and my partner’s allergy to dog saliva, keeping this dog was not feasible. We put her photo on Facebook, and just like that she was adopted by a friend. Despite the fact that we refrained from naming her and tried to keep a barrier of resistance around our hearts, her departure is wrenching. The house feels cavernous, useless.
There were the cats, the allergies, but something else too: the agony of looking at an animal who is locked in fear, who wants nothing more than your mercy. Our friend is smart and kind and I know she will try her best to make up for whatever happened to the dog before my partner found her. This little brown Chihuahua will get all the love our friend can give, which might, over time, be enough. I’m looking forward to finding out.