Last Tuesday evening after picking up Tommy at Starcrest Kennels, I drove past a little black Chihuahua mix running in the opposite direction along Oak Grove Drive, just where it’s sandwiched between the 210 Freeway and Hahamongna Watershed Park.
I made an abrupt u-turn (sound familiar?) as I cursed profusely. I can’t stand the thought of a dog getting hit by a car (as the Tommy saga reveals), but it’s not like I want to spend my free time catching them.
And yet, I can’t help myself.
The u-turn brought me into a driveway of sorts leading to a dirt road into the park. The entrance to the road was blocked off by a big chain; I parked my car parallel to it. There isn’t much of a shoulder on Oak Grove so it turned out to be the perfect spot to land.
I opened the passenger door in the off chance the dog might just jump in. He didn’t. Instead he lay in front of the car in the dirt.
I left the passenger door open and squatted a few feet away so as not to spook him. The poor guy was exhausted. I threw some kibble his way. He got up and checked it out but didn’t eat it; at least he wasn’t starving.
Tommy whined in the back seat, so I gave him some chicken jerky and broke off little pieces for the Chihuahua. That he liked. I lured him closer. He gingerly approached and sniffed my hand. One of his eyes was all teary and had a big red bulge at the bottom of it (a condition known as “cherry eye”). He let me stroke his back. He had a yellow rope tied around his neck with about two inches of leash. I gently took hold of the leash and started to pull him toward the open car door.
And he flipped out, twisting and turning and bucking up.
Back in February I tried to rescue a stray dog in L.A. Long story, but the upshot is I got bit, the dog ran away, and I spent the morning in the emergency room. Granted that dog was a Jindo, and they can be fierce, but even a Chihuahua has sharp teeth. And what would be the point if I scared him off too?
I reflexively let go of the yellow rope, the dog tore off, and Tommy flew out of the car after him. The Chihuahua with the pit mix on his tail ran into the middle of the street. I screamed for Tommy to come, but he ignored me (so much for rocket recall). The little dog circled back toward the side of the car where I stood, leading Tommy directly into my arms. I shoved him into the back seat and secured him with a harness and seat belt.
Even after that harrowing ordeal, remarkably the little guy hung around, although a bit warier now.
I started to experiment. I gave him a command in a stern voice; that only made him slink away. I called him Chico, the only Spanish name I could think of (lame, I know); it had no affect whatsoever. I made a noose out of Tommy’s leash and lured the little guy with chicken jerky. As soon as I lifted the makeshift noose, he ran away.
Back in the driver’s seat, I put pieces of chicken jerky on the bottom edge of the passenger doorway. He stretched his neck to reach them, while Tommy whined and barked in the back seat. (I couldn’t blame him. Under the circumstances, he was being a pretty good boy, but he didn’t exactly put the Chihuahua at ease.)
The little guy scooted out of sight. I got out of the car to look for him and found him waiting on the other side. As I approached, I sweet talked to him and he wagged his tail. I took that as a hopeful sign.
I watched a bicyclist pedal past. A few cars sped by, followed by a looker in a turquoise VW van. His eyes stayed with mine as I watched him pass, his wheels spinning him toward some unknown destination. I half expected, half hoped he would turn around to join me. Maybe there was a reason I’d stopped for this Chihuahua. Maybe the dog was part of some larger plan to bring me and the man in the VW van together. It would be divine intervention that would lead to love ever after, the kind of fateful event that changes your life and makes for a great story.
But of course the looker just kept driving.
I let Tommy out of the car, and we walked down the dirt road into Hahamongna. The Chihuahua followed at a safe distance. But then an off-leash dog that looked like a fox tore after him as if he were a rabbit. For the second time in an hour, the poor pooch ran as if his life depended on it, and surely it did. The fox-like dog was retrieved by her human, and I went back to the car, securing Tommy in the back seat again.
The Chihuahua still stuck around.
I sat on the dirt cross-legged, like a yogi, hoping he’d crawl into my lap. He came right up to me but as soon as I tried to put my hands around him to pick him up he stiffened and I backed off.
“Sometimes you just can’t catch ‘em,” is what one dog rescuer wrote to me after I'd bemoaned the fact I hadn’t caught that Jindo.
I looked longingly at passing vehicles willing someone to help me. But I remained the lone loon sitting in the dirt.
The day slipped into twilight. It was hot. The quest became a meditation.
I got back in the car and pondered what to do. I don’t pray but I found myself asking God for help. It wasn’t a deep plea that souls resort to when confronted with a life-threatening danger or the loss of a loved one. It didn’t have the profound weight associated with facing mortality. It was matter-of-fact.
“Look, God, I can’t stay here all night. Either you help me out or this dog is going to end up as roadkill or dinner for a coyote.”
I started the car and waited, hoping he’d come to his senses and jump in, the door still open inviting him in. He didn’t. I wanted to drive off, but I couldn’t see him. I may have been ready to give up, but I didn’t want to end my quest running him over with my car. Talk about irony.
I turned off the engine and walked around to the other side. He wagged his tail again when he saw me.
I tried one last thing.
I placed one of Tommy’s old blankets on the ground with pieces of chicken jerky in the center and sat beside it holding the makeshift noose. He came up to check out the treats and, just like that, I slipped the noose around his neck, tightened it, folded the blanket around him, and carried him to the front passenger seat floor. Still holding the leash around his neck, I got in the car and shut the door, then climbed over the clutch to the driver's seat.
Oh my god. I did it!
With the pit bull on high alert in the back seat and the Chihuahua mix huddled in the blanket on the floor, I started the engine and, giddy, headed home.
Epilogue (inspired by Haiku Bandit)
playing hard to get
not your turn to die