I always wanted to have a stray animal find me, to be able to rescue a dog or cat, to return a little of the affection and care my dogs and cats have given me. And one night, as I drove home from my volunteer shift at PAWS, I got the opportunity. Although it was almost dark, as I turned onto our cul-de-sac I could see a faint shape up ahead, moving along with an awkward, nervous gait. It looked a bit like a rabbit, down to the large upright ears. I slowed up to avoid hitting it and watched it totter into a neighbor’s driveway. We had just determined that the animal was a small, scruffy dog, when it staggered a few steps, then fell over on its side. With a little help, we got it onto its feet, only to watch it stumble a few more steps before falling over again. Clearly the dog needed help, so we lifted him into the car and took him home and called Sallie Stephens-Tiley, a friend and dog behaviorist/trainer for advice. The next morning we headed over to our local vet, Dr. Combs, at the Lake Forest Park Animal Hospital. Dr. Combs identified the dog, who we were calling Willie, as a wire-haired terrier, approximately 15 years old, male, with some significant dental issues and a spine curved by arthritis. Dr. Combs indicated that he was in decent shape, for his advanced age.
Now, we are already owned by three small dogs, but we took him home, and they accepted his presence with their usual good manners. Willie settled in as a temporary member of the household, a little stiff and disoriented, initially. But we gave him some space and visual access to the rest of the gang, and he gradually began showing an interest in the other dogs and his surroundings. After several days, Willie was happily tagging along with our own little pack in his odd stumbling gait, a happy old man.
So, I’m thinking that we might be adding a fourth dog to the group. Even my husband was starting to get attached. You can’t help but wonder, though, in those circumstances, if someone out there was missing this little dog, someone who didn’t know where to start looking. While on my next shift at PAWS, I asked another staffer if there was any mechanism in place for pet owners who have lost their animal. I was surprised and pleased to find that PAWS, like other shelters, keeps such a record – in PAWS’ case a series of binders – of lost pets. At the day’s end, I stopped to thumb through the pages of one of the blue binders, to see if Willie had shown up. Another woman had approached the table at the same time to add her Lost Pet poster to the most current notebook. To make conversation, I asked her if she’d lost a pet and she began to describe her Scruffy, a mixed terrier with wiry grey-brown hair and a miniature goatee. When she got to describing the ears – large and rabbit like – I knew. PAWS also has a procedure in place to follow up on pets who are found, and through them, we were able to verify Willie/Scruffy’s identity and reunite pooch and pet parent. This incident wouldn’t have had such a happy ending for the little terrier without the assistance of the folks at PAWS. And though we were reluctant to lose Willie, we had the satisfaction of sending him home. Willie found us; we found his family.