The dog who wasn’t there

I heard barking from a nearby apartment for a couple of days before I corralled the super who opened the door. The occupant had skipped without notice, leaving the dog behind in an apartment that was empty, other than days’ worth of doggy-droppings and maybe a bowl of water.

I volunteered to watch over the dog, a long-haired terrier mix about the size of a shoe box. A week or so later, the woman came back, explained that her new apartment (a block away) didn’t allow pets, and said she’d pay for dog food while I kept the dog for her. I countered that it was now MY dog.

Time passed — maybe a year. The woman’s daughter, who was maybe 10, would stop by every once in a while and say hello to the dog. Then one day she knocked on my door and told me that her mother had said that the kid could borrow the dog for that night, her birthday.

The noive,” you say. As did I. On the other hand, I knew that dogs weren’t allowed in the new place, and I felt sorry for the daughter. So I let her borrow the dog, which she was to return before school the next morning.

Seven-thirty in the morning, the phone rang. It was the girl, in tears. The dog had got loose, she explained, and was hit by a car as she dashed across the street.

That’s terrible, I replied. I’ll come right over and pick up the body, so I can have her properly buried. As I’d expected, she said the body wasn’t available. The police said it was a civil matter (theft?), so I sued. The mother didn’t show up in court; later, the marshals said they’d been unable to serve her — though I didn’t get their fee back.

I finally said the hell with it; the kid has enough problems with her mother. But for many months, I would instinctively reach down to pet the dog who was no longer there.

It’s been twenty years, easily, and — thought there were always dogs, and for many years a cat, in my family home as I grew up — I’ve never had another pet.

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