Mist eroded into January dusk as I left my house to walk to the beach and see the day's last light diffusing over the ocean. Sonny, the old husky stayed behind, exhausted from an earlier ramble down the sand.
Fifty yards from the house I saw a dark mass moving in the street. I came closer and soon found myself kneeling on the asphalt and petting a rather runty and rotund black lab with a distinctive white forepaw. She was gray in the muzzle, well groomed, and without a collar.
The mist turned to rain. I know all the dogs in the neighborhood but didn't recognize this one.
Long ago when I dated the woman I eventually married, a stray dog crossed our path as I drove us to a movie. She told me to pull over, but I objected because arriving late to a movie used to rank as my top pet peeve (that is, until I moved to the coast and stopped seeing movies altogether).
She raised her voice, commanding me to stop. I did.She said: "There are two kinds of people in the world, people who help stray dogs when it's not convenient, and those who don't. I only date the former."
We corralled the dog in the car, found a phone number on his tag and drove to a phone booth. She made a call and left a message. Later, we reunited the dog with its elderly owner and celebrated by cooking a fancy Italian meal and going bowling.
I took the lab home for the evening, and she seemed lethargic, depressed. She fidgeted all night. In the morning, I put the dog in the fenced back yard and drove to work at Newport High School.
During a break between first and second period, I went outside to the parking lot and called animal control for any news of a lost dog in the South Beach area. Sure enough, a couple from Vancouver had reported a lost dog, a black lab with a distinctive white forepaw. I got their number and called immediately. The bell rang. I was tardy to class! But hey, any student who employs the excuse, "Mr. Love, I was late to class because I was rescuing a stray dog," earns an eternal free pass on tardies, so I excused myself.
I got a man on the phone. He spoke with a heavy Russian (or what I took for Russian) accent and was positively ecstatic. Apparently the dog was going a bit senile and had wandered away from a beachfront rental a half mile away from my home. The couple had searched in vain and then returned to Washington. We ended our conversation by making a plan to meet after school. He was leaving Vancouver in an hour.
Bolting into Journalism, I screamed, "I just rescued a dog!" There was some scattered applause and then we went about cranking out another edition of the school news magazine. During the next break between classes, I talked to the man's wife (with an even heaver Russian accent) and it turned out she was driving down with her daughters to reclaim the dog.
I walked to class and told my Creative Writing students the tale. I then imagined aloud to them that the woman was the wife of a rich Russian mobster, and would come bearing gifts of fine vodka, caviar, a shiny revolver, and possibly one of her blonde, statuesque daughters. That's the sort of thing we do every day in this class, and that's why I love teaching the subject. Call it what it is — taxpayer-subsided imagining that generates many of my best writing ideas.
After lunch, on a lark, I called a neighbor to go check on the dog. She called me a few minutes later and said there was no black dog in the yard or in the house, only Sonny. She had escaped! My teaching was done for the day, so I ran to the truck and raced home to search for the dog.
On the way home I made a mental count of how many dogs I had rescued in my 15 years of living on the Oregon Coast. 1) Ray, my best friend for 12 years, found on Highway 101 near Neskowin; 2) the great Jo Jo, my Rottweiler/lab mix discovered at a boat ramp; 3) the crazy cattle dog I dubbed Buddy, who sprinted across Highway 101 in Lincoln City; 4) the miniature beagle in Pacific City; 5) the obese husky who jumped out of his master's truck at the Surftides in Lincoln City; 6) the terrier a student found but wasn't allowed to keep; 7) the black lab puppy dumped at a park in Lincoln City that a student brought to class. I rescued them all and found them homes. My only failures were the boxer mix at South Beach State Park who wouldn't come to me and the greyhound that darted past me on the path to my local beach. I nearly separated a shoulder trying to tackle him. Seven wins and two losses. Not bad, but not good enough. I wanted an eighth victory.
Two hours later, I found the lab exploring the leafy grounds of the vacation rental she had disappeared from. We returned home and I confined her in the back of the truck until her owner showed up.
At 4:00 p.m., a car pulled in my driveway. I walked out and met the woman and one of her daughters, who was neither blonde nor tall. I opened the truck's tail gate and carried the dog down to the gravel. Upon seeing her owner, she went totally nuts. The woman thanked me repeatedly, gave me a hug, and presented a gift card from Starbuck's. They drove away, and I gathered up Sonny, and we went to the beach to celebrate, where I found limpets galore. An hour later, I ordered my first latte in 15 years and wrote up this account. At times I became wistful during the writing because I occasionally miss my ex wife and her wonderful influence on me. She taught me many important things in life.
By the way, the dog's name is Lucky.
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Matt Love is the author/editor of 10 books about Oregon. He lives in South Beach and teaches creative writing and journalism at Newport High School. His latest book is Of Walking in Rain.
Books mentioned in this post
Matt Love is the author of Of Walking in Rain