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Everyone loves a shaggy dog story
“The way we treat animals and the way we treat people—it’s all connected.”

"YOU need another dog like a loch in kop," sniffed my mother over Facetime, invoking the Yiddish term for a "hole in the head."

She was right. The first dog already gave me enough tsuris (our family’s word for “troubles”) with her insulin shots and tendency to plunge blindly off stairs and walkways. Plus, the family zoo was full up with the several menopausal chickens, a sullen ball python and a chatty guinea pig.

But last winter, when friend Paul Rockwell pulled a tiny black puppy out his backpack that he’d found behind a trashcan and plopped it into my palm, our menagerie expanded because, puppy breath. One Love Animal Rescue facilitated the adoption, and Dumpster Dog celebrated his legitimacy by eating the corners of every rug in the house.

We named him Ogeechee after one of our most beloved bodies of water, and though his markings and mismatched eyes suggested Rottweiler and Husky genes, he quickly morphed into a Suessian mutant with a long body, short legs and no swimming talent whatsoever.

“Oy,” my mother sighed when I held up a destroyed bathmat.

Geech indeed proved to be more tsuris than the rest of the animals combined. He dug up the daffodil bulbs and tried to bury one of the chickens alive. He has ingested parts of shoes, clothing, homework assignments, phone chargers, empty yogurt containers, snotty tissues and the stuffing out of his own fancy bed.

We’ve had success in curtailing his habit of stealing dirty socks, but he has maintained a propensity for “tasting” new people with his teeth.

He caused his most disturbing crisis last week when he leapt out the front door to greet me after work. As I was juggling groceries and my giant purse, Geech ran into the street to taste one of the neighbors—right in front of an oncoming car.

There was a sickening thunk and a squeal of brakes and a piercing shrill that I realized was my own scream. In the pulse that followed, I forced open my eyes, expecting carnage. Instead, I saw Geech running on his stumpy legs at full speed across the neighbor’s yards, his whorled back end disappearing towards 5 o’clock traffic.

Our son took off barefoot after him, shouting. Dear neighbors Eileen and Wes Sessoms hopped on their bikes and combed the blocks. Family and friends soon joined the hunt.

Not being fleet of foot or calm of nerves, I did what I could: I sat down in the front yard and posted a hysterical missive to the 3200+ members of the Lost and Found Pets Savannnah Facebook page.

Hopes were not high. Even if he survived the bumper bonk in his adrenalized state, Geech would probably try to taste anyone who came near him, which might be interpreted the wrong way. And though he had a tagged collar and a microchip in his head, it was hard to imagine anyone from Animal Control chasing him down, what with their five officers to cover the entire county.

Also, Geech had been last seen a half mile away, boltng west across Bull Street, that definitive line that divides urban Savannah into east and west, middle class and impoverished, and yes, for the most part, white and black.

My husband and another first-responder friend, David Eichelbaum, kept up the search until almost midnight, calling Geech’s name through the blighted neighborhoods and overgrown lanes, peeking under sagging porches for a pair of mismatched glowing eyes.

Despite the fact that they were two middle-aged white dudes creeping around, folks here expressed kindness and concern—one gent even called later to say that he hadn’t seen our missing mongrel but had found some puppies if we were interested. Would we do the same for these neighbors if they came calling for their lost dogs over our back fences?

Though bouyed by the human compassion he encountered, Mark returned bereft for our pet and despondent over the poverty and poorly maintained streets that exist just a dog walk away.

None of us ate or slept much that night. I obsessed over how many people shared Geech’s photo; a few total strangers even commented that they had gone out and looked for him. Even if Geech was gone forever, it was heartening to see such sympathy in the midst of the political drama and arguments over gun rights amidst actual gun fights.

We may not like each other sometimes, but we sure will rally behind a sweet furry face!

One helpful share came from Carol Williamson, who runs Speaking Loudly & Often for Animals, a page dedicated to educating Savannahians about animal protection legislation and monitoring its enforcement.

Currently creating momentum for a local ban on puppy mill pets sold at flea markets, Carol also works with a state initiative to combat dog fighting rings and helped officers in the Quacco Road bust in 2010. Earlier this month, she met with Chief Lumpkin to discuss the proven connection between crimes against animals with those against property and humanity.

“Even if you don’t have empathy for animals, you have to recognize that the same people who do horrible things to dogs are capable of committing other serious crimes,” explains Carol, who adds that tips on animal abuse have exposed child abuse situations and led to drug-related arrests.

“The way we treat animals and the way we treat other people—it’s all connected.”

The chief agreed whole-heartedly and has asked Carol to share information with his officers in the many-pronged effort to get the city’s crime under control.

While she counts herself as a one-woman show, Carol collaborates with dozens of other local animal advocates with their own specific causes, from rescue work to feral cats to carriage horses. She also alerted me to a memo from the Dept. of Agriculture announcing that it would begin enforcing a 1999 directive to limit rescue groups from “pulling” animals from government shelters, a devastating turn for those who work to save thousands of animals a year from being euthanized.

Fortunately, a petition collected over 29K signatures in a few days, and the DOA changed its tune last Friday.

“The beauty of Facebook networking is that it gives us an arena to gather voices,” says the passionate retiree.

It can also yield humble miracles: The morning after Geech’s disappearance, photographer Catarina Teixeira, a complete stranger, messaged me that she might’ve glimpsed a black dog in Ardsley Park. We had already accepted the worst, and I doubted that Geech would have double-backed across the railroad tracks after a night in unfamiliar territory. But we set out anyway, hollering his name.

“Is that him?” asked a couple walking their own twin terriers, pointing to a distinctive swirled tushy trotting down a lane.

A few minutes later, Geech was wriggling in our laps. As we rejoiced and succumbed to whole-body tongue baths, I thought hard about what Carol had said about the connection between animal welfare and Savannah’s systemic problems.

If paying attention to the fate of smaller creatures can help tackle crime and poverty, then the cooperation and caring that one doofus dog brings out might also serve as a barometer of our collective character, and we might actually be in pretty decent shape around here.

In any case, we’re so grateful to all who helped bring Geech home. Even if he is currently expressing his gratitude by tasting the cord to my laptop.

May our love for our pets help us extend our empathy to all of our neighbors, even the ones we have to cross uncomfortable lines to get to know.