My birthday always lands around Mother’s Day so my mom and I get together somewhere in between to exchange gifts. This year I came home with a little more than I expected.
My mom lives in an old neighborhood with predominantly trailer homes. She inherited her trailer from her parents who placed it on the tiny parcel of land in the 1950’s. Whenever I go there it’s like stepping back in time. She’s had one neighbor for decades but there’s also a hodgepodge of renters who come and go. Just about everyone has a dog (or several) and cats roam everywhere. When my mom goes for a walk, she carries a walking stick in case she comes across an unfriendly dog.
The day after Mother’s Day, we sat out back under the shade of a big pecan tree so that my kids could play with all the toys they hauled over. The rule is that they can only bring what can fit in a backpack, which will likely explain their future back problems. Out of nowhere, a teeny-tiny puppy came bounding through the alley. My kids squealed with delight as they tried to pet it through my mom’s fence.
“Where did that puppy come from?” I asked my mom.
“It lives over there,” she said and pointed to a trailer across the way. “They leave it out on that porch all day by itself.”
“What about at night?” I asked. She didn’t know.
I opened my mom’s back gate so that my kids could play with the puppy in the alley. I peeked underneath and saw she was a girl and barely old enough to be away from her mama. She licked us furiously and nibbled on our fingers with little white nubs of teeth.
As my kids giggled and played with the puppy, I scoped out where she had come from. The yard was mostly dirt surrounded by sections of chain-link fence that didn’t connect. The front gate, which was left open, was big enough for two cars to drive through. She could’ve left whenever she wanted and I suspected that the only thing keeping her on that porch was fear. Her water dish was muddy and a bowl I assumed was for food was empty.
She looked to be in good enough health with the exception of a little bit of poop stuck to the hair around her bottom, probably due to the transition to solid food. She weighed nothing and her feet were tiny so I could tell that she’d be a little dog, maybe a Cocker Spaniel mix.
We let her come into my mom’s yard and as we did, a big dog that had most likely gotten loose from its own yard went snooping around the puppy’s. It made me wonder what would’ve happened to her if she had been there. Would the big dog have hurt her? Would she have followed it as it left, seeking companionship the way she did when she heard the sound of kids playing?
So many questions went through my mind, not the least of which was what were her owners thinking to leave a puppy in an unsecured yard by itself all day? Puppies don’t raise themselves. I thought about what her future would be like. If her owners didn’t care enough to take care of her, I doubt they’d go through the trouble of getting her vaccinated and spayed. If she survived puppyhood, she’d likely end up pregnant with a litter of unwanted puppies that would perpetuate the cycle she was already in.
As it got closer to the time for us to leave, I knew I had two choices. I could go home to our own dog (who we adopted from the Humane Society a year ago) and try to forget I ever saw the puppy. No one would blame me for not getting involved. After all, she belonged to someone else, even if they were neglectful. Maybe I could come back after her owners were home and offer to buy her. People love it when a total stranger comes to their door and accuses them of being bad dog owners, right? I contemplated calling an animal rescue group to see if they’d intervene, although I doubted they would since she showed no signs of abuse (yet). I even wondered what Jesus would do.
The other choice was to take her home with me. I could justify it by calling it a rescue, even if it was essentially stealing. As I contemplated my two options, I wondered how I would explain to my rule-following 5 year old why I snatched a dog that didn’t belong to me. Ugh.
The puppy snuggled up under my neck like she was looking for a nipple. I could feel her little heart beat under my hand and I was overcome by her vulnerability. Taking her was wrong. But unlike her owners, the puppy’s journey would never include the opportunity to learn and grow from her physical and emotional pain. That’s why we protect animals. That’s why we give them food, water, a safe place to live and love. It’s our God-given responsibility to take care of creatures that we’ve turned into pets because they cannot fend for themselves. Damn right, I stole that dog.