A dark, windy road. Lightning flashing, thunder booming. A dark mass lumbers onto the road. The driver slams her brakes, stops. Her headlights reflect the dog's eyes, bright yellow. She gazes at her own dog, emits a few choice words, and pulls over.
The dog comes to her, and she stands there, flummoxed, torn between calling someone to help and standing there for hours until she can think of something easier than sticking this big, fluffy dog in the back of her car.
Decision made. Introductions between those two unknown dogs on that dark, windy asphalt go as smoothly as one can hope. But she has two other dogs at home, one of whom is a snarky pup. She drops the obviously shaved Chow Chow off at the sanctuary for the night.
I meet him in the morning. Mina and Celeste exchange words with him. Actually, they mainly just yell and he stares back confused.
I've been told Chows are one-people dogs. That they are arrogant, aloof, independent, cat-like, alien. That they are dangerous and unpredictable. I have yet to meet one of these deadly assassin Chow-Chows.
This dog is sweet. He is well-fed. He has been shaved, so someone took the time to cool him off during the hot summer months. He has a collar but only a rabies tag, which indicates someone took time to get him licensed and vaccinated.
I crouch down before him and he waddles up, entire body exuding happiness. His tail wags a gentle greeting. I look deeply into his eyes, and he looks back with a comfortable confidence. When I stand, he smiles and wags his body some more. When I move back, he moves forward. We could dance together, this brown, fuzzy dog and I.
We try to get in touch with his guardian, but officials won't give us personal information from the rabies license. We think this weird and a bad way to avoid putting dogs in the shelter.
When it is apparent that no contact will be made, he is driven to our local shelter. They have the database. They can contact the guardian. I wave goodbye to the fuzzy dog with the shaved body and the unshaved head.
Our shelter has a 98% adoption rate. Dogs are walked twice a day, at the minimum, by a team of dedicated volunteers. Their foster program is limited to sick dogs and those who need behavior modification - healthy dogs don't leave the shelter, unless it's to go home. It is not a bad place to go, if you are a dog or cat in need of a new home.
A few days later, I end up at the dog shelter, handing out flyers for an upcoming event. I cannot, in good conscience, enter the lobby of a dog shelter and not visit the dogs and cats inside. I just can't. When it's a shelter I know has a hi-kill rate, it's hard. But even at this shelter, knowing almost all of these dogs will go to homes, it's still hard. They shouldn't be here, period.
Then I see him. The chubby, shaved (but not the head), Chow Chow. Oh, I exclaim. I bend down in front of his cage and stroke his big fat head. He looks up, with recognition? I don't know. But no matter, his body sways side to side, his tail unfurls to wag as low and slow as he can get it. Even in here, in this small little prison, he is happy to see me. A little part of me shatters. Why wasn't he back at home?
I corner the staff person I know and demand (okay, inquire politely) an answer. They had contacted the guardian, she said. The man had adopted this dog nearly four years ago from a Chow rescue. The dog - Koda Bear - kept getting out during thunderstorms. The man did not want him anymore. It was too troublesome, he said.
Sometimes, there are big thunderstorms up in the hills here. They are deadly beautiful. Lightning twines out across night sky, filling it with power and electricity. Close behind, the booms of thunder lets us know its presence. Mina sometimes reacts poorly to thunderstorms. Not always, just sometimes. Especially if it is winter and already cold. She will curl up, go deep into herself, and shake. In those moments, I pull her close to me. To my chest and its pumping heart. I squeeze tight until the shivering goes away, until she settles head over heart on my body. I cover her with a blanket and we find comfort.
That is what Koda asks for, every thunderstorm. He asks to be respected and loved. Maybe he does not want someone to hug him, but he is afraid and he needs someone to understand. That is what is so hurtful. In his fear, at his most vulnerable moment, the one person who was supposed to just get it, set Koda up to fail. He failed this beautiful dog. And I can't say I don't find myself really angry at him for it.
Four years, tossed to the curb. Can you imagine if I did that to Celeste? If I found her inability to walk comfortably on slick surfaces so cumbersome, so irksome that I just got rid of her? If I just reacted to her fear with disdain? I would make this world a crueler place. This man already has. So many people have.
Koda is available for adoption. He gets along well with other dogs. I do not know too many dogs who would, in the face of my two screaming she-demons, stare gently, give off appropriate "I'm totally cool here" cues, and then gracefully walk away. I don't know how he is with small dogs, but he did meet big dogs and he was fine. I don't know how he is with cats, a couple shelter employees thought he would do poorly but who knows.
If you have a moment, spread the word about Koda. He is at the Nevada County Animal Shelter, which is run by Sammie's Friends. He needs someone to love him with fierceness and dedication.
I don't know exactly what Koda's story says about us. I read the cards of many dogs at this shelter, and well, I left unimpressed. Dogs left in homes, nervous biters - nearly unadoptable - given up because of a job loss, dogs abandoned to the streets, or dogs no longer wanted because they pee too much or too little or don't jump through flaming hoops to get the beer out of the fridge. I know that we can do better. We must.