By the time I met him, Lance’s life had been up for grabs for a decade. Then, one day, I overheard Lance’s owners joking about “nuking “their dog. Considering how they’d treated Lance for a decade, I couldn't help but think his life might be literally on the line. Since we were living in a no-dogs-allowed apartment, my wife Clara and I frantically searched for a house to purchase and found one within a couple of weeks. A few days after we moved in, I showed up at the Schmidt residence and asked to take Lance. My request was denied. Mrs. Schmidt insisted—I'd say delusionally—that Lance was part of her family. I drove back home, at first confused and then flat out angry. A part of the family? Who the heck was she kidding? I decided that if I couldn't get Lance by hook, I'd get him by crook. I began scheming—I would steal Lance, if necessary. In the book, I mention that I might be a bit rusty in the theft department, not having stolen anything since my shoplifting days as an adolescent. A lapse of memory. It was only after Lance: A Spirit Unbroken was published that I remembered having committed theft as an adult and that thievery just so happened to involve a dog…
…One summer, back in the 1980s, I was going through a tough time. Among other things, I was between jobs. John, a friend of mine, let me stay at his house in Roosevelt, Long Island while I got back on my feet. Living with him at the time was a family (we’ll call them the Smiths) he had befriended. They had a dog, a Terrier mix, named Quincy. The first time I laid eyes on him it was obvious he was being severely neglected. He was a scrawny, smelly mess. I noticed that at dinner he was either ignored or thrown an occasional scrap as an afterthought. The Smiths were the kind of people I wouldn't be caught dead with but my own circumstances had thrown me under the same roof with them.
When I got my initial unemployment check, one of the first things I did was buy Quincy a bag of kibble. Every so often I’d supplement that with some of my own dinner. Within a month, Quincy was back to his appropriate weight. John and I also gave Quincy a bath (the first of his life?). We had to use scissors to cut gum, candy and other foreign objects that were embedded in his coat. Admiring our handiwork, John said, “Quincy has his dignity back.”
I started taking Quincy with me to the local high school where, while I ran around a quarter-mile track, he did the kind of investigating dogs normally do in all the nearby foliage. Every once in a while he'd join in and run right alongside me as I circled the track. Usually, that didn't keep his interest for long and he went back to further canine snooping.
About six weeks after I had moved in with John, I found employment in New York City. That meant a round-trip commute via the Long Island Railroad five days a week. Every workday morning when I’d leave the house, Quincy would stare at me from a window, propped up on the sill with his front paws, begging me with his eyes to either take him along or come back inside the house. Oh, the guilt trips (literally and figuratively) Mondays through Fridays!
The first evening I came back home from my job, Quincy was nowhere to be found. After much searching, I found him up in my bedroom, ensconced in a closet I’d left open. That was where I would find him after every workday. I had the distinct feeling he didn't want to be around any of his owners during my absence.
Then I met Clara. We hit it off immediately. The problem was she lived some thirty-five miles away in the Village of Patchogue. Lots of phone calls led to our first meeting, several dates and, after a January weekend together, the decision that I would move in with her. The following Monday I called off work and headed back to John's place to get my stuff. While driving on the Long Island Expressway, I had no trouble convincing myself that I should and would take Quincy with me.
It was early evening when I got to John's place. No one was home, making my caper easier to pull off. I parked my VW beetle in front of the house, went inside and, after exchanging greetings with Quincy, began collecting my personal belongings and taking them out to my car.
On my last trip to the car the Smiths pulled into the driveway. I happened to be carrying a bag of dirty laundry so I told them I was going to the laundromat, sensing they hadn’t noticed the rest of my worldly possessions crammed inside my VW. I hadn’t aroused their suspicions, but taking Quincy to the laundromat might. I went back inside, trudged upstairs and sat myself at the desk in my bedroom, pondering my next move. Quincy lay down next to his would-be dognapper. What to do? I wasn’t about to unpack my car but I couldn’t leave my possessions in it either—that would be an open invitation to anyone with sticky fingers. No telling what my extensive LP and 45rpm record collection was worth.
Then, opportunity knocked! I heard talking and laughing coming from downstairs. I descended to the first floor and realized the Smiths, all five of them, were in the back room watching TV. From there, they couldn’t see the front door to the house—as long as they stayed put. I went outside, started the car and came back into the house. The Smiths were engrossed in whatever show they were watching so I went upstairs, leashed Quincy, and descended the stairs, hoping and praying he’d keep his yap shut. Out the door we went, high-tailing it (Quincy doing so literally!)to the car. After squeezing Quincy into the back seat between my dumbbells and stereo, I scooted into the driver’s seat and slowly drove away, not wanting to attract attention or arouse suspicions. I kept a lookout in my rearview mirror, all the while trying to cook up an alibi if nabbed and forced to explain what I was doing. Once I entered Southern State Parkway, I gunned my car to the extent you can gun a 1973 VW Beetle. Quincy and I were home free!
We arrived at Clara’s and, before unloading any of my personal property, I let Quincy into Clara’s house to meet her. What did he do? He went into a furious spin and then took a humongous dump on the living room floor. Quincy had introduced himself! Clara is a dog lover so Quincy put a damper on the relationship.
Moral of this story? After a long car ride let your (kidnapped) dog poop outside before bringing him inside.
As for Lance, did I have to kidnap him? I can’t give that away but, if you haven’t already, you can find out by reading Lance: A Spirit Unbroken.
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Walter Stoffel is a substance abuse counselor and GED teacher in correctional facilities. When not behind bars, he likes to read, travel, work out and watch bad movies. Major accomplishment : He entered a 26.2-mile marathon following hip replacement surgery and finished—dead last. The author currently lives with his wife Clara, their dog Buddy (another rescue), and cat Winky (yet another rescue).