Animal Defenders of Westchester

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Animal Defenders of Westchester
P.O. Box 205
Yonkers, NY 10704


Dog's Best Friend

New York Times Magazine, Sunday, January 15, 2006


The other day, I had an adventure with a dog. It wasn't my dog, but it was a dog that I liked as soon as I saw him. I was driving alone in my car one sunny morning when I noticed a Chihuahua running right down the middle of this two-lane highway. He had a collar and what looked to be a name tag around his little neck. Right away I felt sorry for him.

He was helpless, about to be hit by a car. So, friend of the dog that I am, I stopped my car, put it in park and got out. There were no cars behind me.

If one came up, I was pretty sure that the driver would see what was happening and wait patiently while I finished my mission: saving a life.

Unless it was Ebenezer Scrooge or Simon Legree behind the wheel, I felt sure that the driver would instantly understand.

I got out of the car and approached the dog. I decided to make comforting noises to ensure that he didn't bolt. This did not work. As soon as the dog heard me coming up behind him making the universally recognized puckered-lip sounds that everybody uses to be friendly to dogs, he turned around and stared. He did not interpret the puckered-lip sounds as friendly. Alarmed, he took off running at full speed down the middle of the car-filled street.

I took a moment to absorb this, and then I decided that I would pursue him. As soon as I got back to my car, I noticed a car behind it. I could tell instantly by the driver's hand gestures that he was not a friend of

Canine America. He had his hands spread on the sides of his face with an expression that I interpreted as "How about it, Buddy?"

I got back in my car and drove along, looking anxiously out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the dog. I was now very deeply involved.

I was committed. I needed to see how this Chihuahua made out.

In a couple of blocks, I spotted him. There he was, back in traffic, paused behind a huge S.U.V. I hesitated before stopping the car again.

Two sides warred within me: on one hand I had the desire to help the little dog. On the other hand, I had the guy behind me in traffic. There was the dread of more-specific hand gestures - and possibly of direct

action. I had the guy pegged: Enemy of the Dog. He was now making a hand gesture that I interpreted as "C'mere, you." I determined that he was about 30 seconds away from getting out of the car and confronting me. I got out of the car and resolved not to look at him again unless I had to (like if he got in my face).

As I approached the dog, I was startled to see a woman approaching him, too. We each silently drew within 10 feet of the dog. The woman,

I noticed, had a ham sandwich in her hand. We each inched closer, until we were within three feet of the dog. I could almost read his name tag. Then, of course, he took off running again.

I looked at the woman with the ham sandwich in her left hand. She was in her 30's and wearing business clothes. I read her instantly as an Animal Planet watcher, an all-around friend-of-the-animals-especially-cute-little-dogs person.

She was torn: she was obviously late for something, but her dog-loving heart was bleeding all over the highway. We spoke. She told me she worked at a bank. She told me that she had been pursuing this dog for about 20 minutes. Longer than I had. As we talked, I really started to empathize with her, but then I noticed something. There was a quietly ominous change in her tone. With every word she spoke, I noticed her manner subtly turning from "harried" to "relieved." It was hard to catch, but there was a slight turn. More and more as we talked, she morphed from "concerned dog lover" to "security guard being relieved at the end of the shift." And then, with a subtle but definitive passing of the guard, she handed me the sandwich.

"Here," she said. "I gotta get to work. Good luck." She got back in her car and drove away.

It was obvious that by passing me the sandwich she had also passed   responsibility for the dog. I walked back to my car, sandwich in hand, scrupulously avoiding the eyes of the guy in the car behind mine. I got in the driver's seat and put the car in gear. I put the sandwich on the seat next to me. I drove along still looking for the dog.

I had many thoughts. I began to think of this whole thing as a job, something that had to be done. And I wondered how long it was going to take.

I looked at the sandwich. I was hungry, and it looked pretty good.

I resisted the urge to take a bite. As soon as I see another person pursuing this dog, I thought, my shift will be over. I'll just pass along the ham sandwich and be on my way. In Canine America, the work is never done.                                                      ~

Frank Gannon is the author of four books, including, most recently, "Midlife Irish: Discovering My Family and Myself." His last True-Life Tale was about a speeding ticket.



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