A few days ago I was out for my morning run and spotted a silky yellow mutt loping through my neighbors' front yards like a gleeful drunk.
My mother instilled in me a deep-seated fear of things with teeth, especially anything dancing like some guy in tie-dye at Bonnaroo. I prefer to leave rescuing unattended animals to the proper authorities, as dog-catching is nowhere on my list of effective skills.
Also, loyal readers of this column may recall that the last time I tried to "save" a dog, it got hit by a car. (Don't cry; it lived, though I hope its owner is keeping a better eye on it these days.)
So perhaps you can understand why I hurried past Sister Golden Hair Surprise as she kicked up, then nosed through, a pile of crunchy brown magnolia leaves.
But then came the guilt. That dog right there is somebody's love and joy, I thought. What if she gets hit by one of the asshole commuters who hurtle down this street on their way to work? What if she eats a gas station burrito thrown on the side of the road and dies of food poisoning? What if someone drugs her and sells her into doggie prostitution?
I double-backed and interrupted her one-dog fiesta.
"Hey Pretty," I cooed. "Whatcha doin'?"
Pretty eyed me balefully. I'm obviously peeing on this gardenia. What's it to you?
But she didn't growl when I sidled up to her, so I hooked my finger around her flowered collar. Hmm, no tag.
"I think you're going to have to come with me," I said.
Awesome, you smell like turkey bacon. Let's go.
I have little experience walking large, strong dogs, and was forced to join Pretty in her cavorting canine boogie down the block. My own dog, a flat-faced diabetic pug that resembles a cat with bad plastic surgery, often expires into hyperventilation after five minutes of trotting on the asphalt and must be carried home like a baby. When I arrived home with the interloper, she looked at me with outraged goggly eyes.
Who the hell is this? You trading me out for a snout?
Not wanting to disturb Clarabell's delicate mental health, I wrestled Pretty into my backyard. She taunted the chickens into a frenzy until I stashed her on the side of the house, where she promptly fell asleep in a pile of chicken poop. Clarabell eyeballed me dolefully as she went back to licking the fuzz off the carpet.
Thus began the Facebooking. I posted a blurry photo of Pretty and was amazed to see it shared dozens of times in less than 10 minutes by friends and strangers — for a minute, Pretty even deposed Grumpy Cat memes and the Rolling Stone bomber cover as top trending topics. Damn dog got more action than last week's column, actually.
I also posted Pretty's photo to i-Neighbors, a listserv that informs interested parties about upcoming garage sales, reliable handymen and neighborhood gossip (such as the fact that the Avenues on 61st development is still marketing its student leases by the room, a blatant violation of city directive. But I digress.)
I quickly got a response from Maria Sayers, whose dog, Wrigley, went missing a month ago. The golden-haired dingo had been a wedding present, and the Sayers were on their way out of town for their 10th anniversary when they got the news that their furry first child had escaped. Wrigley fit Pretty's basic description, so I invited her to my home to have a look.
Hey, I had already picked up a strange dog; what's another stranger? Don't tell my mother.
Pretty bounded up to Maria like there was a steak hiding in her purse, but this was not the reunification any of us were hoping for. Maria shrugged good-naturedly, saying that she doesn't get her hopes up too high.
"I still follow every lead," says the mother of two.
There have been dozens of leads since Wrigley's disappearance, and Maria has hooked up with the owner of a lost puggle that may have been spotted with Wrigley on the southside. The two women have forged a friendship over their missing pets, commiserating and checking for each other's dogs at Animal Control every few days.
It also turned out that Maria and I have people in common, and we marveled over the instant community and crossover relationships that arise over a lost dog.
Truly, there is something about missing pets that touches us deep in the feelings: Even the most cynical among us understand how heartbreaking it is to lose a precious non-human companion.
There are so many terrible things in the world that we can do so little about, so few lives we can save as we rush to work and mow the grass and wonder why we're all here in the first place. Small acts like sharing a photo of a missing dog on Facebook may not impact the poverty gap or fix our broken judicial system, but at least it tips the scales towards good. Beats leaving another ranting comment on Rick Perry's page.
But it takes a village. Wanting to pay it forward in the hopes that someone will do the same for Wrigley, Maria offered to take Pretty around the corner to Tailsspin to be scanned for a microchip.
And that's how we learned that Pretty was actually a boy named Buddy.
What can I say? I'm not in the habit of looking closely at strange shaggy underparts. And though I am all about debunking gender stereotypes, there were flowers on his collar.
Just then the Facebook notification came in from a neighbor corroborating an address, and I drove Pretty Buddy home. Though his owners were out, neighbor Shawn Eustice met us and shooed him into the yard.
Less than a minute later, he was standing next to us again.
Oh, were you not aware there's a gap in the fence?
We shook our fingers and blocked the opening with a bench. His adventures curtailed, Buddy settled on a patch of grass, rolled on his back and exposed his neutered manhood to the world.
And so a happy ending for this missing pooch, facilitated by modern technology and good old-fashioned community cooperation.
May we do the same for Wrigley and so many other lost pets still at large.