Lament For A Dog Lost

Little Brennan with his pal Rose. Photo by Sandy Robison

Today someone posted on Chautauqua Missing Pets a photo of a dog, uncollared, in the wind and snow on a road by the airport. The person who posted the photo, Maddie Samuelson, said she tried to catch him, that he even came up to her car window at one point and clearly needed help, that he seemed like a nice dog and friendly but would not come to her or get into her car. Her grandfather came to help. They spent a long time trying to catch him but apparently he was as afraid of humans as he was terrified of the snow and cold. The photo shows him, one paw raised as if his feet were freezing, staring into a freezing landscape. Hours later, in the darkness and cold, he would be dead at the bottom of Townline Road hill by the landfill, hit by a vehicle.

My sister and I scoured airport hill looking for him today after seeing the girl’s post. Then we drove down West Oak Hill and ultimately found him in a snowbank, lying on his side. He was frozen solid. I write this because too many dogs end up like this, unloved, left outside in blizzards, in perilous circumstances. Or somehow they escape their fences or leap from cars. Some are much beloved and some are not. We do not know how this fellow ended up in such circumstances. A few kind people did try to help him. Had he gotten into that nice girl’s car yesterday at 4 p.m., his fate would have been different. Maddie said he seemed like a sweet dog and at one point came up to her car window.

I stood beside him there on the frozen road, a few miles down from where I had lived many years ago. It’s a lonely spot on a good day. A few farms and houses dot that part of Townline Road as it nears its end at Route 380. There’s a creek once lovely and now polluted at the very bottom of the hill. The smell from the landfill lingers in the sky half way into the Ellery woods. There’s something forlorn about the place. And for this dog–a handsome, young, tan dog, in the South, we would say, a mountain cur–it was a place of doom.

Humans can do wonderful things sometimes. But often they are careless with animals. Sometimes people are cruel. Sometimes they are negligent. Life is hard. Who knows what happens. And for all those who insist, animals can fend for themselves in the cold, let us remember this kind of weather is killing cold. Domestic pets have no business being out in it. If they are tied out or chained, they will try to break free because they know the cold can kill them.

And I can say this, if an animal is in peril and you are there, it’s an ethical duty to do something, right then, without wasting time. Often, it is a matter of life and death. We can’t walk on by or hope the next person will help. No, we can’t save them all, as so many say dismissively, but we can save the one dog on one day. We can feed the lost cat or take it in from the killing cold. We can do the right thing at the right time.

Photo by Maddie Bartholomew (reprinted with permission from Chautauqua County Missing Pets)

It goes the same for people in all walks of life. We are our brother’s keeper, so says our Bible, so says any ethical philosophy of life. It needn’t be Biblical. It needn’t be commanded by one’s Christian preacher or pastor. We know in our hearts what is right and wrong. We know when to do it and what to do. Often it’s the hardest thing to do the right thing. If it were easy to be a good human being, any fool could do it. It isn’t. It’s a hard thing. It’s a hard thing to be a good person. But no matter how you argue against it or rage at the vagaries of life, in our heart of hearts, we know what’s right. We know when we need to step up and do it.

I’ve learned so much about loving well from dogs, whose hearts are better than ours, whose loyalty is greater. Sometimes even our best intentions don’t work, but at least we did all we could in a given moment like the girl did who posted this photograph. I am haunted by this lonely dog on his last day of life, cold and alone, afraid of the only people who reached out to help him. Somehow he is a symbol for all the cold and lonely people and creatures in this world who live on the edge of life and death, who live in the periphery of our busy lives, whom we pass by every day. It’s a cold place out there. We must nurture each other. More than that, we must offer adequate aid when it is needed. Sometimes it’s just a smile or a dollar. Sometimes it’s stopping your car when everyone else in the world keeps on driving in the middle of a storm and trying to catch a lost dog whose life hangs in the balance.

We are all on a lonely highway here.

My sister and I said a prayer over the frozen dog lying in the snow pile on the side of the road. We prayed to the good St. Francis for him and mourned his agonizing last day on earth. We send up our prayers for those who are ill and lonely, sick and dying, for those children who suffer, for those creatures out in the cold. And we know, we must do the right thing when we are called to do it.There’s no second chance, no “later,” no maybe tomorrow. When we are called to step up to the plate of doing the right thing, we must do it then not later.

As we prayed, we recalled all the dogs we had known and loved, so many who gave us that remarkable, trusting unconditional love–Baron and Heidi, Cody and Molly, Old Pete and Big Mike, Abe and Bear, little Daphne and courageous Toby. Our lives were all enriched by these dogs. We gave them the best care and comforts. Dogs should have warm beds and sit on the sofa with children, hugged and adored. They should have shots and vet care, daily love and good food. Who was this dog lying alone and frozen in the snow? Was his name Max or Rebel or Barclay? Did he have people who loved him? A favorite ball? A soft bed once? How did he end up here? We are left with those questions. But he pulled at our hearts, and he reminds us all of our duty to others, human and animal.

Sandy with dogs, circa 1955

And so we all weep for the lost dog, dead on the highway, lying frozen in the snowbank. We pray he was the beloved pet of someone, not a dog who had been treated unkindly all his life. We pray he had somehow gotten lost not that an unkind soul had dropped him in the middle of nowhere in a blizzard. We pray for mercy. Let us have mercy. Let us remember him and pray to St. Francis for him. Let us lament this dog and remember him not because his story ended so badly but because he reminds us to be good people in a harsh world.