Portion of each book sale donated to animal rescue organizations.
“Do you want to adopt a dog?”
Turning my attention towards the voice, I saw a tall, slender, white-haired woman walking a leashed dog. Or rather, I saw a dog pulling a leashed woman. The dog, a black-and-white, medium-sized ball of fire, yanked her in whatever direction happened to strike his fancy while she struggled to keep her balance.
“Not really. Anyway, if I did, it’d be the one up the street. You know, the one that’s stuck outside all the time.”
When I was new to the area and jogged by his property, the dog in question used to come charging at me, barking vociferously, restrained by a short cable attached to a run. After a few months, he began ignoring me. Although I felt sorry for him, I was never sure if his brief interest in me had been friendly or unfriendly, and never tried to approach him. Years earlier, I had read somewhere that a dog kept outside 24/7 was not to be trusted.
“This is that dog!” announced the lady, all the while attempting to control her hyperactive companion.
“My name is Anna and this is Lance.”
Upon closer scrutiny (to the degree my 20/450 vision would allow), I realized that indeed he was. I was tempted to ask Anna why she kept her dog outside all the time, but before I could, she let me know Lance was technically not her dog. She explained that his legal owners, the Schmidts, had little interest in their dog and she’d taken it upon herself to care for him. That effort included walks like this day’s that sorely tested her endurance. I had to get to work but, now knowing this dog was approachable, asked Anna if she thought his owners would object to my walking him on occasion. She assured me they wouldn’t.
This accidental encounter occurred in front of my apartment on Boulder Drive in Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania, the first Tuesday in December 2001.
The following Saturday, after telling my wife Clara what I was up to, I walked over to the Schmidt residence. On the way, I wondered: Do I really want to bother doing this? Yeah, I do, because I always felt bad for the poor pooch. People who neglect animals, what are they like? Did Anna tell them I might be stopping by? I hadn’t bothered to check with her. What if they tell me to get lost? I guess that would be that. I tried.
Arriving at the front stoop, I knocked on the screen door and waited. After a second and third series of knocks, the inside door opened up bringing me face-to-face with Mr. Schmidt. He was a light-complexioned, black-haired, forty-something man, around six feet tall, with a beer belly (I assumed beer was the cause based on the number of empties stacked along the side of the house). A conversation ensued through an unopened screen door.
“Hi, my name’s Walter. I live down the street. I was wondering if I could walk your dog today.”
“Well, I think I could give him a better workout than Anna can.” I was quite sure of that, but I was just as sure that Mr. Schmidt could care less about how much exercise his dog got.
“It’s up to you.”
“I didn’t bring a leash. Do you have one?”
“Jesus Christ, I guess so.”
Without saying another word, he slammed the inside door shut and left me waiting on the stoop. Eventually, he returned holding a leash and stepped outside. We headed across the backyard.
While walking towards Lance’s doghouse, a one-way conversation ensued, during which Mr. Schmidt endlessly ranted about the high cost of home heating oil. Did it seem odd to him that one more neighbor, one he didn’t know at all, was taking an interest in his dog? I imagined him thinking I’m talking with another idiot animal lover.
Fortunately, the walk was brief, so I didn’t have to endure his presence longer than necessary. There was simply an indefinable something about him that made me uncomfortable. I just wanted to get the dog and get out of there.
Once reaching Lance, Mr. Schmidt approached to leash him. His dog immediately sank to the ground and lay prone with his head scrunched between his two front legs, almost as if he was trying to hide his face. Something seems odd, unnatural. Is that a bashful or meek expression? Can’t tell. I ultimately concluded he must be of a gentle and obedient nature. Great, a dog that is rambunctious while exercising (Anna could attest to that!) and well-behaved when not.
The second I took the leash from Mr. Schmidt, Lance came to life. Off we went on a chaotic tour of the neighborhood. Throughout, we engaged in a tug of war. Whatever he had seemed to be on the Schmidt property just minutes before was now out the window. This was the dog I’d seen running Anna ragged just a few days earlier. Completely unruly, he darted off in any direction that piqued his interest, pulling me with him. Every so often, while dragging me around the neighborhood, he stared back at the human holding the other end of the leash. He seemed to be evaluating me. Was I a friend or a foe? Could I be trusted? Our first walk lasted little more than twenty minutes but, for me at least, had felt like an hours-long wrestling match. What a whirlwind! When it was over, I returned Lance to his run, the leash to Mr. Schmidt, and headed back home, giving myself a mental pat on the back for a good deed done.
Before reaching my apartment I’d already made the decision to walk Lance again sometime soon. The problem? His owner. He creeped me out. I didn’t want to deal with him on any kind of regular basis. With that in mind, I bought the sturdiest leash available at the local pet store, thus eliminating Mr. Schmidt as the middleman.
Funny. After several years of not having a dog, just a few minutes with this one instantly caught me up in his over-the-top enthusiasm. I felt like a kid again.