JUST SO THERE ARE no unnecessary tears, I’m going to tell you straight up that this tale does not end with a dead dog.
It started out on a busy stretch of Victory Drive on a foggy morning last week. I was driving to work, tea in hand, listening to GPB’s Orlando Montoya read the weather forecast in that soothing tone of his that encourages serenity, even if a hurricane is approaching.
All was bliss until I spotted something in the turnspot in between the median. In the splinter of a second that it took to whoosh by, I could see it was not a pile of Spanish moss with feet but a dog, wearing a frayed purple collar and enjoying the remains of a fast food container mashed into the asphalt, oblivious to the four lanes of giant metal things hurtling past.
In the next tiny crumb of time, I managed to circumnavigate the moral dilemma: Should I stop? I should stop. But I’m late! Someone else will stop. Face it, lady, today, you are the someone. But what if it has fleas? Shut up and try to save the damn dog!
So I pulled my minivan into the median, punched the hazard light button and reached back to gently open the sliding door with a plan to lure it in with the rest of my bagel.
Instead, it looked up at me with frightened eyes and ran right into oncoming traffic.
I couldn’t look. I heard the brakes screech and a sickening thud, followed by yelping. I sat frozen.
Not even Orlando Montoya was going to make this better.
When I finally peeled myself off the steering wheel, I was relieved not to see a mangled pile of fur in the road. A gold Honda had pulled over, and a woman in a suit jumped out.
“I saw it run through this yard,” she called to me as I gave a small wave to the two worried–looking girls peering out from the backseat. The front bumper of her car hung down, cracked.
Shaken, she introduced herself as Shonese Clark, on her way to work as the admissions coordinator for Hospice Savannah. “Everything happened so fast, I’m just so sorry,” she said, wringing her hands.
I told her I felt responsible for startling the dog into her bumper, and together we poked around the azalea bushes, neither of us sure if we should call 911 or Animal Control or stand in the street and cry.
We were close to doing all three when we were joined by a couple of employees from the nearby Savannah Mission Bible Training Center who had already called police and told us they’d seen the dog roaming the neighborhood for months.
The owners had never made much of an effort to contain the dog even after receiving polite requests to keep their canine out of other people’s flowerbeds.
“I’m sorry to say that it was only a matter of time before it got hit,” lamented Justin Sellers, one of the center’s directors, his chin jutting towards the wall of westbound traffic. He and his colleagues had called Animal Control several times before about the house.
“I’m an animal lover,” he said. “It’s hard not be judgmental.”
He pointed out the carriage house on the lane where the dog lived. Shonese and I began to walk over, heavy–footed, when the community service specialist drove up. The officer assured us that Shonese was in no way liable for hitting the dog.
In fact, the dog’s owners could be held responsible for the damage. Shonese attested that she didn’t give a fig about the car, she just wanted to know that the dog wasn’t suffering.
But it was getting late. After one more pass along the fence line, she relented that she had to get her kids to school.
Not 10 seconds after she left, a green sedan pulled up to the maybe–dead dog’s house. The officer and I went back over to bear the bad news, only to be told by a tired–looking man that the brown dog definitely belonged to the people who lived in the main house.
We walked up to a cluttered porch with a broken door. The woman in pajamas who came out was not friendly.
“Morning, ma’am, I just wanted to let you know your dog was hit—”
“What do you need with my dog?”
“No, no, I’m trying to tell your dog was in the road—”
“And I am telling you, my dog is in the backyard.” She put her hands on her hips menacingly. This was not going well.
The officer commanded quietly that since we were all here, the woman could just show us her dog so we might all get on with our day.
You’ve never seen such a sneer; I think I actually ducked.
We walked around the side and she opened the flimsy side gate. After some nudging with a slippered foot, out crept the brown dog with the stringy purple collar, with those same frightened eyes.
It had a quarter–sized scrape above its eye, but it was alive. The scary woman was triumphant, then confused when it dawned on her that the dog had indeed escaped, been hit and returned. But not contrite.
I was relieved my attempted random act of kindness had not ended in roadkill. But I was deeply disturbed by the woman’s indifference for the welfare of her dog and her neighbors.
In my own fight with apathy, I had encountered an even more insidious, glazed–eye dispassion, the kind that makes it seem like the world might unravel into a barbarous hell any minute.
Whether it’s the Penn State cover–up, the defrauding of retirement accounts, the polluting of the Ogeechee River or the sad life of that sorry pooch, it’s more evident than ever that all evil needs to flourish is for good people to do nothing.
The woman’s jeers that I ought to mind my own business about her dog only laid out the truth clearly: Making it our business to care about each other’s pets, kids, elderly neighbors and each other is the basis of a civil society.
I called Shonese at work to tell her she had not in fact killed a dog, which made her very happy. The officer departed, promising the owner a visit from Animal Control very soon.
I drove off, for the moment consoled that for every jerk I meet like the undead dog’s owner, there are at least a few Shoneses and Justins who care deeply about what happens to the beings around them, who will speak up, call the police when they see abuse of a pet or a child. So perhaps the scales keep tipping to the positive.
Then again, maybe if I had minded my own business and not stopped at all, the dog never would have been hit in the first place.
Life is forever flummoxing.