by Dennis and Landy Eder
We save pets, and hope others will do likewise. Devastated hardly suffices to describe how we would feel if we lost our dog Happy, and we would be forever grateful if some Good Samaritan found him and returned him to us. He is tagged, as all dogs should be, with a telephone number and the words “RECOMPENSA” clearly engraved on the tag.
My husband, Dennis, was coming home in Mérida on foot at about 5 PM just as a terrible storm with strong winds and heavy rain hit our area. When Dennis was about a block away from our house, he spotted what he perceived to be a beautiful and rare dog, almost as tall as a Great Dane, with a long graceful tail. My husband began to follow it, but to no avail, since most dogs and cats can out-run human beings, any day.
When he got home, thanks to Henry Ford, we got into our car and continued the pursuit, with our dog, Happy, jumping into the back seat and coming along for the ride. Our dog loves to ride with us and when at all possible we accommodate him, since we also enjoy his company.
If he only new what we were up to, he would never have voluntarily accompanied us. No doubt his internal monologue would have gone something like this, “Not again! I’m no St. Bernard, or some bloody Blood Hound. The last time they used me as bait I ended up sharing their attention with an ugly English Bull Dog, the saliva of which I can still smell. They should only know the full story when they attempt to put me in my cage. They would not be saying, ’Oh, I wonder why it’s so hard to get him into his Jaula and why he howls so much when we put him there?’ No more intruders, I’ll thank you. I’m no fool and they’ve got another thing coming if they expect any further help from me.”
This, of course, was not the first time we had used Happy to assist in rescues.
As we drove along, we spotted the dog on a one-way street which we could not drive down. Dennis got out of the car along with Happy on his leash. Happy decided he wanted no part of this ‘thing’. And started to growl and act menacingly. (He was obviously threatened by the size of this ‘big interloper.’, or so we thought…Happy is a Cocker Spaniel, and despite the ongoing indignity we put him through by keeping his hair cropped short (in deference to the hot weather), he has not lost one iota of his natural regal pride.
Happy’s bark is much more foreboding than his bite. Nevertheless, the “Big Interloper” decided discretion is the better part of valor, and took off with a speed more appropriate for a dog being chased by a tiger, rather than from the snarl and glare of a Cocker Spaniel, and once again vanished instantly.
But with a resoluteness I can only attribute to family ties (the details of which I will explain later) we continued on our quest.
About fifteen minutes later, we had just about given up hope, when, low and behold, we spotted him again in an area where pursuit on foot was the only option. So off went my intrepid husband, leash in hand, totally oblivious to the rain, his soaking clothes and shoes that now seemed to squish when he walked, this time with no Happy.
Once again, this reincarnation of Houdini did his instant disappearing act, rapidly vanishing, in no more than a wink, to parts unknown.
Dennis returned to the car feeling the impotence of failure as his wet clothes soaked into the now wet seat of our car and his soaking wet shoes gurgled and produced an overflow of water as he pressed on the accelerator.
The undeniable feeling of exhilaration we experienced during the chase was being supplanted by a feeling of failure and depression. As impossible as it sounds, a tangible emotional cloud seemed to be forming in the space above our heads. Neither of us wanted to look at the other. We were both overcome with the feelings that we had lost all hope of successfully retrieving this dog, despite our best efforts. I actually reached over and put on the car lights, as if we were picking up the end of some funeral procession.
Life on the street for a dog is “nasty, brutal, and short,” to quote a great English philosopher from the 17th century, somewhat out of context but right on point.
I began the process of resigning myself to the impossibility of ever helping this animal. Not wanting to break into tears, and not wanting to look my husband straight in the eye, I took a quick sideways glance at his visage. With this glance I saw a slight glimmer of hope beginning to take root, and as I turned for a more intense inspection, I realized that he was not really ready to abandon the quest, or to use the vernacular, throw in the towel.
I saw embers of reborn tenacity rekindle in his eyes and the deep wrinkles of his brow. I can read him like a book after more than 47 years of marriage. No words needed to be spoken. I knew what was coming, and the clouds forming above my head caused by our several mishaps began to part.
My husband was confronting in his mind the Philosophic Conundrum: The question is To Be Or Not To Be THAT? Or to put it a little less obtusely—To continue to try to save this dog or Not, THAT is the question? To save or not to save.
Suddenly we were making an abrupt U turn, and headed back into what is now an area of heavily congested traffic, with the rain by this time, coming down in buckets and filling the streets in a way that can only happen in Mérida. In many places the curb and the street had become one giant puddle, or more accurately a giant lake, more suitable for row boats than cars.
After 47 years there are few surprises, although I must say that my life with my husband has never ever become boring, or dull.
Referring back to the “family ties” mentioned above here is the promised short explanation…
My husband’s mother Phyllis Cohen and her sister Ruth Cohen rescued hundreds upon hundreds of dogs along the Cross Bronx expressway and other points of last hope for abandoned or lost animals in New York.
My mother-in-law was a school principal and later a supervisor for Special Education, and her sister was a master teacher. Both worked at schools in the South Bronx, which was overwhelmingly a predominately Spanish area and Grandma (as we referred to her) spoke both Spanish and Portuguese fluently. During their travels they encountered many severely distressed animals. Most they found homes for, but my husband grew up with no less than 7 dogs, for which, for various reasons, no placement could be found. Both sisters were well known in the Bronx and Queens, as well as Long Island, for their tireless efforts on the part of homeless animals. In fact, they were almost as well known for their animal rescue work, as they were for their stone sculpting which was displayed in many galleries and for which they had both been the recipients of many awards and honors.
Grandma did her last large sculpting work at age 83 and saved her last dog just a few weeks prior to her death. The stone sculpting was of a large horse (animals were her favorite subject matter), and the final dog was a mixed beagle of unknown provenance. It was left tied to a rope at a super market, the manager of which, after a few days, contacted Grandma through the North Shore Animal League on Long Island.
BACK TO THIS DOGGIE STORY
This U turn was no decision at all for Dennis, but more like an automatic, instinctual response. It was encoded in his genetic make up, and reinforced by his family history.
Suddenly we reached the busiest intersection in the area, and there was our dog standing in a gas station located on one corner… The animal pranced across the busy street to the other side, barely being missed by a passing car, and I saw him trying to cross back again, with no apparent concept of the danger.
I threw caution to the winds, and thinking of the fine example set by Grandma, stepped out of the safety of my car, and, in a kind of “homage” to the Cohen sisters, found myself holding up my hands and stopping the oncoming cars… “HALT!” Not exactly an easy thing to ask of drivers trying anxiously to get home and spend a few quiet hours with their families.
My demonstrative act did not sit well with them. I had become a real unjustified impediment and the focus of more than a little road rage.
Horns began honking, and more than a few pointed epithets were shouted at me, resounding in my ears. Spanish is my native tongue, so I did not fail to miss any of the ‘subtle’ messages sent my way. “You crazy lady, what do you think you’re doing.” Some of the other epithets were not nearly so polite. The cacophony of horns and epithets continued to echo inside in my head. Their volume only seemed to increase with each passing second.
My husband crossed the intersection, and this time, he was almost clipped by one of the cars that managed to skirt around me by partially going on the curb.
But he was determined more than ever to save this big sweet dog.
By this time the dog had moved to the middle of the opposing street, and traffic was coming at him from the other direction, as the light on that side had just changed. But as some great military leader is credited with saying, “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” Dennis quickly grabbed the dog and managed to get a leash around his head, almost simultaneously pulling him to the safety of the sidewalk.
I got meekishly back in my car and began to drive home, while my husband walked quietly home with his new-found friend. If you looked closely you could see a certain self-satisfied pride in his gait, and strangely enough this pride was mirrored in the gait of the doggy that walked with him, as perfectly as any show dog could ever have.
I felt the same pride as I drove home. The only one that wasn’t clearly ebullient was Happy. Looking at him in the back seat I could clearly discern that Happy was not happy.
THE STORY GETS BETTER
When we got home, our neighbor took some pictures of the dog, which we posted around our neighborhood, as well as in the park in Alemán, and several other large parks and in front of several churches, and in the offices of some veterinarians.
A week passed and we got no response, so we decided to take him to our vet for an examination and the usual required shots.
While we were there, the vet’s wife experienced what I can only refer to as ‘love at first sight.’ The next day, he called us and asked us if we would consider letting him and his wife adopt this lovely animal. He said he has a wonderful home for him in a suburb of Mérida.
We were invited to his home with the dog. There is a big enclosed yard, with one other dog there, and the two dogs seem to get along perfectly together.
When possible, we like to check out the circumstances where our findlings end up. This was as good as it could get, with a big yard, another friend, and the care that only a veterinarian could offer. From beginning to end this was a Kismet tale. Talking about tails, you should have seen the joy embodied in the wagging tail of this dog, as it ran around exploring its new home.
The vet said he wanted to call the dog Hercules. We considered this, but felt it was too long a name for a dog. So we suggested it be shortened to Hercule, as in Hercule Poirot, the great literary detective. In Agatha Christie, Hercule always gets his man. Hopefully our dog Hercule has finally gotten his.
The above story is dedicated to the Cohen sisters, Ruth and Phyllis, for their inspirational stone sculptures and their relentless devotion to animal rescue work.