Our evening walks have been mostly uneventful since the horse incident--until last night that is--when we stumbled upon yet another loose dog, but this time it wasn't scary so much as heartbreaking.
Jon and I and the dogs were just under a mile from our house when we noticed a small, black and tan dog as it ran in and out of the surrounding yards across the street. It spotted us soon after and came running over, dragging a dingy red leash and spiral, metal stake that must have been used to (unsuccessfully) keep it chained in the yard. He was smaller than either of our dogs and kept his head close to the ground, so I wasn't too worried about him attacking us like I was the horse. To be honest, I was more worried about what Jack was going to do as the hair on his back began to stand up and a low, mean growl started rumbling from his throat. I kept him on a short leash as Jon and I kept walking, hoping the stray dog would ignore us and be on his marry way.
Unfortunately, it didn't quite work like that. The dog was happy to follow us on our walk, tail wagging, big, sloppy grin on his face, and sneaking quick sniffs of Jack's butt every chance he got.
We made it about 20 feet when Jon and I finally came to the agreement that we had two options; we either had to canvas the neighborhood and find this dog's owner, or he was going to follow us all the way home. Seeing as we're not in the habit of stealing dogs or taking in strays, Jon handed Macy's leash to me and checked the stray dog's collar for tags and that's when we realized just how bad of shape this dog was really in. He stunk to high heaven and was nothing but big, buggy eyes, a rib cage, and a pile of matted fur. It was like watching one of those ASCPA commercials, only Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" wasn't playing in the background. My heart broke as it occurred to me just how long this dog must have been running loose, searching for food, and his long lost home. Of course he didn't have identification on his collar, which told me we weren't going to be successful in finding his home, but we had to try anyway.
We started on the street where we first saw him and asked every person we passed if they recognized the dog, but everyone said no. Meanwhile, we called animal control to see if a dog fitting his description had been reported missing, but we had no such luck. Dollar amounts for vet visits, vaccinations and licenses began floating around in my head. My deep love for animals wouldn't let me leave this poor, emaciated dog to fend on his own anymore, but my ever shrinking pocketbook and inability to control one of our previously rescued dogs (Macy, in case it wasn't obvious) was telling me I didn't have a choice. There's no way I can handle another dog with loads of emotional baggage.
I thought we lucked out when Jon spotted a little girl--probably 10 or 11 years old--riding her bike across the street. Jon called out to her and politely asked if she had seen the dog before. She paused, turned her head to the side in thought, and after a few seconds said it looked an awful lot like her next door neighbor's dog, two or three houses down.
We went to said house and Jon walked up to the door with the stray dog while I waited on the side walk with our two. Jon rang the door bell. No answer. He knocked loudly. No answer.
Then I noticed a man walking out from behind the house, and I called out, "Excuse me? Do you live here?"
"Yeah." He said.
"Is this your dog?" I asked.
"Yes! Oh my gosh, thank you! I've been out looking for him for like three hours!" He exclaimed.
"Oh, good," I said, and began explaining how the dog found us and what we'd done to figure out where he lived.
The man appeared extremely grateful and thanked us profusely as Jon handed over the dingy red leash and metal stake tied to the dog.
It wasn't until we were walking away and the little dog began crying as he watched us go that it occurred to me that I'd been so relieved to find his owner that I completely overlooked a very big detail: he said the dog had been missing for hours, yet it smelled bad enough and its ribs and spine were poking through enough that it should have been missing for more like weeks. I'd just handed a poor, defenseless, and malnourished dog back to the man who had made him that way.
I spent the rest of the walk home, the time we took to give our dogs baths afterward, and the hours since questioning whether or not I did the right thing. I don't think I did, but I'm also at a loss for what I could or should have done. I keep asking myself what if we'd never come across that girl on the bike? What if the man hadn't been home? The dog would have come home with us where I know he would have had a bath, lots of food, and a visit to a veterinarian by now. He would have been loved and cared for and not chained up in the backyard and left to fend for himself. But then I would always be asking myself how would I have felt if someone found and kept one of my dogs when they ran away? When I put it that way, obviously, this dog wasn't mine to keep. Still, if I'd only known before Jon knocked on that door what I know now, I wouldn't give a shit.