I recently found a Labrador Retriever walking along the side of the rural two-lane that leads to my neighborhood. Late in the day, I was returning from a trip to the grocery store, but pulled to the shoulder when I caught sight of her curly black coat. Few houses at all, no houses in sight. I lowered the window. “Hey buddy! Where ya headed?” The dog glanced at me but kept going.
I grabbed a leash and jogged across the road, then squatted three yards away and cooed a little doggy talk (years of training). Her concern was obvious: Who are you and where is my Mom? When she finally allowed me to approach and pet her, I slipped the leash over her collar-less neck (bad sign) and led her away. The old girl is a tad portly (hadn’t missed a meal – good sign), so I offered assistance into the back of my car. She collapsed into a heap and panted for the five minutes it took to drive home.
This is what we commonly do out here: Take in stray dogs. A loose pet is either lost from a nearby campground or abandoned. Heartbreaking to report, but people actually drive out from the city, remove collars and tags and turn unwanted companions loose. I like to think they believe country folk have big hearts and lots of room, and will simply take the homeless in. I wish I could keep them all, but sanity and economics prohibits that kind of largesse. On the flip side, if the wanderer is local, the grapevine will quickly get it re-homed.
Stella (named her on the way) is old and arthritic and apprehensive. Her hips are obviously sore and she walks with a hitch. Back at the homestead, she did not like the look of my dog and snapped at him right off. My exuberant Frank was ecstatic at the sight of this unexpected friend. (I believe he thought I’d bought her at the market. Maybe on the dog food isle?) An hour later, Stella was fed and resigned to his presence, and relaxed into a dignified, well-behaved guest. Settled in by the next day, she would often look up at me and smile a “thank you.”
Although catching her was an automatic response, my mind raced with worry over how this unexpected event would further complicate my life. I’ve been whining incessantly about projects of late, questioning my sanity in taking it all on, and desperately trying to make sense of how I will ever accomplish everything I want to do. I’ve been stuck. Mired. Will the edits never end? How will I find time to promote the novel when I do finish? And what about the next book – will I ever have time to write again with a full-time job? Sell the house, and if so, move where? (But that’s another story.) Blog posts? Guest posts? Choose cover art? Aye, Chihuahua.
Over the 48 hours she was here, stoic Stella served as a reminder of the importance of flexibility and resilience. No, I didn’t get as much done during her stay as I’d planned, but I did gain an important life lesson. I was shown the gifts we receive when we reach out and put others first. I considered the ramifications of doing the right thing – in many situations – and the satisfaction of helping someone (or something) in need. My sweet Frank was a gracious, generous host, and I was uplifted by his patience and compassion. When I thought about the choices I could have made, I knew I would make the same decision if I had the chance to do it again.
I couldn’t fathom what was going to happen when I put that dog in my car, but it worked out, regardless. I posted a hand-printed sign on the roadside where I found her. “Found Lab – older black female.” A neighbor called, and our Stella turned out to be another family’s Cinder. I was privy to a truly remarkable reunion when the bereft family went wild at the sight of their beloved pet, home again. Note to self: Let go of the need to try to manage all outcomes.
In retrospect, I think she showed up to remind me to keep an open heart. I’m happiest when I believe that circumstances will work out. I want to practice setting aside the incessant worry over planning, and simply acknowledge that the tasks will all get done. While Stella strayed from her home, I realized I’ve strayed from my truth: Life works better when I release control and trust that only good will come to me.
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