On Sunday I was getting over a cold. After our morning walk with Ella, I went to bed to take a nap. I hadn't been down for long, though, when Laura came in and said, "I know you're trying to sleep, but I know you're going to want to meet this dog."
I grew up with German shepherds, and Laura knows I love them. She's somewhat allergic to dogs, which is why we have a hypoallergenic breed and not a shepherd. (Ella, by the way, is the greatest dog in the world and I would never trade her.) But the dog our downstairs neighbor Ann had in her apartment was gorgeous. He was huge, probably 120 pounds, with a long, long body, giant paws, and a grizzled muzzle. He was friendly and very sweet. He licked my face.
Ann had found him that morning wandering by himself around the neighborhood. He had no ID tag, but he did have a valid rabies vaccination tag. Ann had already driven him 80 blocks south to the Chicago Animal Control and Care facility on Western Avenue, only to find that it didn't open until noon. She had an appointment she couldn't break and wanted to let us know that there might be a strange dog in the basement for part of the day. "I'll take him down to CACC again when I get home," she said.
"Don't be silly," said Laura. "We'll take him for you, so we can get him there at noon."
Ann's dog Winston is a hilarious little shih tzu. We call him Kramer because he often shows up in our apartment unannounced. But Winston hated the big German shepherd. So did Ella, who went stiff as a board and bared her teeth when she met him. Obviously the new dog couldn't stay in either of our apartments. Not knowing whether or not he'd be destructive, we didn't want to put him alone in the basement, so I sat with him in the stairwell between the two apartments for a while. That was pretty cramped, though, and I had to stand up every few minutes to get the motion detector to turn the light back on so I could read. Also, the dog had obviously bad hips. His back legs seemed a little weak, and they tended to cross each other when he tried to walk. A stairwell was not a good place for him.
It was cold and gray outside, but finally I bundled up and took the dog out onto the back deck with me. When it started to rain, he made it clear he wanted to go back inside. I scratched his head until he settled down again.
At 11:30 Laura and I leashed him up and took him out to the garage. We couldn't get him to climb up into the back seat of the car on his own, so I climbed in first and pulled on the leash while Laura picked him up around the haunches and pushed. He was so big that he would have filled the whole back seat even I weren't there with him. He was sitting up nervously, blocking Laura's view in the rearview mirror, as Laura backed us out of the garage. Eventually he lay down with his front legs across my lap. As we made our way south, he alternately laid his head on my stomach or stared up at me. He frequently licked my face. When Laura braked for red lights, I had to hold onto him so he wouldn't fall off the seat.
His head was as big as mine. As we stared at each other, I couldn't think helping about the family shepherd who had bit my head when I was one. I don't remember it, of course, but I still have a faint scar on my cheek from it. I'd required stitches in my cheek and my forehead. On some level, I was surprised that I could sit nose to nose in the cramped back seat of a Honda Accord with a giant German shepherd and not feel nervous about it at all.
"What would we name him if he was our dog?" Laura asked. "I was thinking Colonel."
"That's a great name," I said, and to us he immediately became the Colonel.
Animal Control was open by the time we arrived. The first thing the woman at the intake desk did was scan him for a microchip. There was none. Then the three of us spent a few minutes trying to decipher the numbers under the chipped layer of paint on the Colonel's rabies tag. Our theory was that, with the rabies tag, it would be easy for the city to find the Colonel's vet and thence his owners. That's what we tried to tell ourselves, anyway.
The woman took a picture of the Colonel while I filled out a form giving our address and the intersection where the stray dog had been found. I also signed a form that gave me some pause, saying that I relinquished all rights to the animal to the City of Chicago, and that he might be euthanized if the city determined it was in his best physical or emotional interests. The rabies tag will lead them to his owner's, I told myself firmly. It will.
After a few more minutes, a man arrived to lead me and the Colonel back into the kennels. Laura stayed in the waiting room, having cried as she hugged the dog goodbye. The Colonel was a very good dog, and he followed me without complaint as I tugged on his leash. The man led us down a long whitewashed corridor with a sealed concrete floor. On both sides, through wire-reinforced windows, I could see big rooms filled with rows and rows of floor-level cages. The man held a door open for us into one of the kennel rooms. There must have been fifty or sixty dogs caged in the room, and they all started barking the second we entered. The Colonel and I waited inside the door as the man walked up and down the rows looking for an empty cage. The stench of urine and feces was overwhelming. I tried not to look in any of the cages as I petted the Colonel's head. Each cage had a clear plastic pocket on the front of it with a piece of paper folded up and tucked into it.
There was no suitable cage in that room, so the man led us to another room much like the first. Again, no cage. While the man led us to yet another room of cages, I noticed a sign taped to a door that said, in essence, "DO NOT MOVE ANY ANIMAL WITHOUT ALSO MOVING ITS PAPERWORK." My stomach was already in knots. Thinking about how easy it would be for someone careless with the paperwork to get a dog lost in these kennels only made it worse.
Finally the man just left the Colonel and me out in the corridor while he continued hunting. While we waited, the poor Colonel pooped on the floor. When the man returned, I pointed out what the dog had done. He only shrugged and motioned for me to follow.
We returned to one of the rooms we'd already visited. "I hate to do it," he said, "but I'm going to have to put him in a half-size cell for now. There's just nothing full-size available." We followed him down a row of cages, and I saw that at least half the dogs in them were cohabitating with piles of feces.
The man opened a small cage with a water dispenser inside it. "Go on in," I told the Colonel. He sniffed and went inside obediently, though the cage was only big enough for him to curl up in, not to stretch out at full length. The man closed and secured the cage and tucked a printout with the dog's picture on it into the pocket on the front. I didn't look back as we left. I couldn't.
Laura was wiping her eyes when I arrived back in the waiting room. "Is he in a nice place?" she asked. "Is he comfortable?"
"Yes," I said. We were very quiet on the ride home, both wondering if we'd done the right thing.
I was restless the rest of the day, and I didn't sleep well. I don't think Laura did either. The next morning, though, I was just waking up when Laura and Ella came bursting through the back door, just back from their walk. "His name is Lobo!" she said. "We saw a flyer with his picture down on the corner!"
Laura had carefully torn the bottom half off the flyer. It said Lobo was a big friendly German shepherd, 100+ pounds, please call Gerardo. Laura dialed the number.
"Can I talk to Gerardo, please?" she said. "We found Lobo!"
As it turned out, Lobo was already home. His family had called CACC the previous afternoon and were told that their dog had just been brought in. Lobo hadn't even had to spend the night in the pound. Gerardo thanked Laura profusely for taking him in. Both Laura and I cried.
Now I think of our German shepherd friend as Colonel Lobo. I hope we run into him on a walk someday, and I hope he recognizes us.
Also, we got Ella microchipped yesterday.