The first time I saw Red Dog, about three years ago, Cricket and I were walking up the hill on our regular route around the neighborhood. We rounded the corner and there was a dog in the leaves at the side of the road. She looked like some kind of terrier and she was the same color as the autumn leaves around her, that orangey, reddish brown, and hard to see. But then Cricket noticed her and started to leap frog towards her. She does this. Instead of her pull-like-ox move, she hops forward in hopes of outsmarting the leash.
The little red dog crossed the street, so we did too. She wandered around on the side street, sniffing all of the hot spots, letting Cricket know where they were. I couldn’t leave, knowing she was in the street with no leash and cars on the way, so we stayed with her. Eventually, she climbed up a lawn and stood on a small concrete slab at the front door, like she owned it. Cricket and I walked up to the lawn and knocked on the door. A sleepy face eventually came to the door and I asked if this little dog lived here. The woman stepped back, and the little red dog ran inside. And then the door shut.
The next time we saw the little red dog, it was about a month later and getting chilly. She was missing a lot of hair down her back, and from a distance, I could see black dots on her skin. It was only when I got up close that I could see that the black dots were moving.
My immediate reaction was revulsion, and I pulled Cricket away from her. Cricket had fleas once when she was a puppy. She was two months old and I was giving her a bath and found these things that looked like black sesame seeds stuck in her hair. I freaked out and obsessively cleaned and medicated her and combed and combed and combed.
But Red Dog had been colonized. She had cities of fleas. I couldn’t understand how a human could live in a house with a dog that thoroughly inhabited by fleas. Fleas jump.
I wanted to take her home and dunk her in a flea bath and wrap her in a soft towel and comb and soothe and ice and do whatever necessary to make her feel better.
But more pressing was the fact that she was standing in the middle of the street and not following Cricket to safety at the side of the road, and there was a car coming straight at her. I screamed. It was one of those out of body screams where you look around to see where the noise came from. Finally the scream brought someone out of the house.
Red Dog’s mom was disheveled and wearing pajamas and she asked why I’d screamed. I pointed to Red Dog, who was now safely on the side of the street, sniffing at Cricket. And, when I got my words back, I told her about the car.
No real reaction. It was as if her emotions were blunted. She came down the lawn and picked up Red Dog, fleas and all, and watched as her other dog ran out of the house, without a leash, or even a collar. He was a black haired, medium sized dog, maybe fifty or sixty pounds. And the woman called him Jack, yelling at him to stay out of the street. Jack was missing hair too. I realized I’d seen him around the neighborhood, even further away from the house than Red Dog.
I mentioned the fleas and the woman smiled and said, “I know,” and shrugged. She eventually got both dogs back in the house and Cricket and I went along on our walk, but I couldn’t stop obsessing. The woman had cuddled Red Dog. She didn’t seem abusive or mean, but her dogs were sick with flea juice. I wanted to go home and get a box of Frontline and leave it in her mailbox, but I was afraid she wouldn’t use it or she’d be insulted and firebomb my house.
I called my mother at work and asked for advice, because I couldn’t sit still and I was fantasizing about running back and stealing Red Dog. Mom asked her coworkers and they suggested I call the ASPCA which led me to the local no kill animal shelter in my town. The woman I spoke to from the shelter was just as upset as I was when I described Red Dog’s hair loss and standing in the street. She said they’d had previous complaints at that address and they would look into it again. She didn’t make me feel like I was interfering or making too much of it, but she also didn’t give me much reason to hope that they could help Red Dog.
I wanted to be a super hero but I didn’t know how to do it.
I didn’t see Red Dog for a long time after I made the call for help. I hoped, but did not believe, that they had been able to make a difference. Eventually, I did see her again, at least a year later. She had most of her hair back, but she was still outside by herself with out a collar or a leash, running into the street. As we got closer, her person came out of the house to get her, so that was progress, at least.
I walk by her house regularly but rarely see her. I hope that means she’s doing well and her fence is working.
The Red Dog situation, and the deep pull to save her, is what, eventually, led to adopting Butterfly. I learned, from Red Dog and others along the way, that I really didn’t need to know a dog from puppyhood to love her. In fact, my ability to love a dog seems to blossom in the first few seconds and is very hard to shake.