“Reunited and it feels so good,” are lyrics from the 1978 song by the vocal duo, Peaches & Herb. But upon returning a stray dog, the lyrics that played to the song’s melody sounded more like, “Reunited, and it feels like crud!”
It was far from peachy.
When I found the elderly dog, he was thin, filled with fleas, and uncharacteristically aloof for his breed. After twenty minutes of convincing him I wasn’t a serial killer, he reluctantly succumbed to my coaxing him into the backyard. Within minutes he escaped and sat stubbornly in middle of the road. I directed cars to drive around us while begging him to follow me. Perhaps, the dog binge-watched Criminal Minds before running away, because he clearly knew the finer points of stranger danger. After getting him into the backyard for the second time, I jammed logs in the passage in the gate he eluded, creating fine fence folk art that I am sure would become the envy of my neighborhood. Then I went back inside to post his picture on lost-dog websites.
Desperate to ease his obvious discomfort from fleas, I took him to the vet. While getting him in the car, he severed the leash with his teeth like a geriatric Cujo. Off he ran into the street for the third time that day, prolonging our misadventure.
With a half-leash dangling conspicuously from his collar and an additional leash that I held tight, we managed to get flea control medicine and a rabies vaccine from the vet. Then we drove to the groomer to get the dog we now called Buddy a bath. (Sometimes, I called him B-A-D).
Unfortunately, dogs have to wait two days after their vaccination before they can be groomed. So, no bath for Buddy. We settled on a new bed and, still smelly and itchy, went home.
By day three, I decided that Buddy was a true stray. No one appeared to be looking for him, and the condition of his skin, with patches of hair missing from the flea frenzy beneath his fur, made me skeptical of ownership. Of course, I was getting attached, too, and maybe less eager to find his home.
But it wasn’t to be. His owner saw one of my Facebook posts and contacted me. This is where I had to practice not being judgmental, despite feeling justified. I asked the owner to text a picture of the dog as proof of ownership. Buddy isn’t the only one who’s seen Criminal Minds. She sent an adorable picture of him with her child. I shared my conflict about the dog’s condition with two animal-rescue experts, and they advised me on how to best handle the return while advocating for his care.
When Buddy saw his owners he greeted them with the same enthusiasm I had seen when he was yanking me around the neighborhood on walks (while I prayed he wouldn’t eat through another leash).
It was bittersweet, exhausting, emotional, adventuresome, and messy. It was also an embodiment of several works of mercy: (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit those imprisoned (even if they are in your backyard), comfort the sick, admonish sinners (by encouraging the owner to get flea medicine, identification tags, and a microchip), instruct the uninformed (the expert guidance given to me) counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful (I needed a lot of both when I returned the dog) be patient with those in error (I gave the benefit of the doubt despite my inclination to judge) and, prayer, because I petitioned for the right thing to happen.
When the young child opened his front door and the dog ran in, I knew the right thing happened.
Reunited, and it felt so good.
At least, it did for Buddy.
I know on the surface it looks like I just rescued a dog, but like so many times in daily life, it encompassed many opportunities to give and receive mercy. Do you ever think of the kindnesses you do as mercy?
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